MT798 – a universal standard for corporates?
When you Google “MT798” you get around 11.500 results. The very first one is on Wiki Answers – and the “best answer” reads:
MT798 is an authenticated message that is used by Corporates in lieu of the MT 760 to send financial instruments such as Safekeeping Receipts, Import Letters of Credit, Export Letters of Credit and Standby Letters of Credit to member Banks of the SWIFT system.
Hmm – if that is the “best answer” I do not think that I want to see the rest. MT760 is guarantee and standby issuances – which I guess can hardly be categorised as “safekeeping receipts” and “export letters of credit.” And the MT798 is not used “in lieu” of the MT760 …. (as will be explained later).
The second “hit” was (quite appropriately) on swift.com (http://www.swift.com/about_swift/press_room/swift_news_archive/home_page_stories_archive_2008/trade_messaging_available_for_corporate_to_bank.page)
The page was dated 29 December 2008 and includes the following:
The MT 798 Trade Envelope message is now available for trade messaging between corporates and banks. The Trade Envelope can be used in SCORE for Import Letter of Credit, Export Letter of Credit and Guarantee/Standby Letter of Credit flows. Banks, corporates and vendors have all been involved in the development process. Many corporates connected to SWIFT see trade as a natural extension to their current treasury and cash management communication with their banks.
Okay – better: the MT798 is an envelope message from SWIFT. The intention is to connect banks and corporate customers. As such the relevant message type can be the MT760 – but also many others like MT700 (LC issuance) and MT707 (amendments). In any case the relevant trade message (from the MT7xx series) are packed into the MT798…
It looks like the perfect idea. A SWIFT message designed to connect banks and corporate customers. All trade banks are connected to SWIFT – and according to the statement from 2008 there are “many corporates connected to SWIFT.”
I have not seen any numbers to support this last statement. However a corporate customer can be connected to SWIFT without using the MT798. So here I will focus on the MT798 volumes. These have been quite hard to find. As far as I have been able to find out, there are no official published volumes. I have a presentation from SWIFT dated November 2012. This mentions 8 (eight) companies – whereas 4 are live – and 4 are due live 4th quarter 2012. I guess that means now! In addition the presentation states: “Additional corporates are gradually disclosing their adoption of MT798.”
In any case: 4 live companies between 2008 and 2012 do not give the impression that the MT798 is a “standard” for corporate customers wanting to connect to SWIFT. That is 1 (one) customer per year! Hardly impressive!
These are the best statistics that we have unfortunately.
Anyway: let’s take a closer look at the MT798.
As said: The MT798 looks like the perfect idea! SWIFT is a neutral party – providing a neutral, secure and standardised infrastructure. The IT budget at the banks these days are scarce – but each year there are two SWIFT releases – so banks have a budget for SWIFT. Further more – the banks are experts in SWIFT! SWIFT is a natural way of communication for banks. Therefore wanting to connect via SWIFT is – at the outset – much easier compared to any third party provider.
And there are a number of third party providers out there – offering software that connect the corporate customers and their banks. These have their own technology, which they try (hard) to persuade the corporate customers to use … and thereby the banks. One may even argue that the banks are sometimes “forced” to use (and pay for) a certain technology. Or rather: If they do not they may loose the customer … There are however different strategic approaches to this – by the different vendors. However: taking the “helicopter view” a common standard – via SWIFT simply must be for the benefit of both corporate customers and banks.
However – the devil lies in the detail! And though I like the “helicopter view” one must also take into account the details. Especially when the topic is related to Trade Finance. Here details may mean the difference between success and failure ….
What one needs to understand about SWIFT is that they provide the infrastructure. They transport the “raw” data between the parties. In order to use this in a good way – there must be a user interface. SWIFT does not provide this. This means that if a corporate customer wants to use the MT798 messages to connect with their banks, they need to acquire a vendor application to manage its trade transactions. SWIFT offers a list of certified trade applications for corporates. According to SWIFT those can offer, “plug and play” on the SWIFT connectivity such as Alliance Lite 2. However; for the examples that I know of (from the list of 4 companies) – it has been fairly large (and expensive) projects – and surely not “plug and play.”
Another issue: There have been somewhat mixed messages as to whether or not the MT798 will be replaced with ISO20022 – and if so “when?” At one point it was 3-5 years. Then that was not the case, but then SWIFT US recently stated that the guarantees messages were being re-developed as ISO20022 messages to be available in 3 years. Hmmm? The latest information I have is that when the MT798 is not sufficient (e.g. domestic flows in Asia), the ISO 20022 messages will be introduced. There is however no confirmed timeline, and according to the information at hand the MT798 will be “standard” between now and 2020. Of course if you have vendors out there who builds integration to these formats – then they need to be “standards” in the sense that the formats remain relatively stable. Changing standards add cost to the process all the way around!
One other interesting question is on which channel(s) the MT798 can be used. According to SWIFT any channel can be used: Internet, proprietary or SWIFT. The best practice however is to use MT798 on SWIFT’s FIN service in the Score environment with FileAct for documents.
Any channel? I did a search on SWIFT’s website and found this statement:
“Two ways of exchanging corporate to bank trade data over SWIFT are now available: using FIN (MT798) or FileAct with formalised trade request types.”
So I wonder if “any channel” is correct? But the statement is from 2008 – and there may have been an update that I have missed.
As I have stated a couple of times – the MT798 looks like the perfect idea! But it really requires more than 4 customers to call it a “standard” – and as I have been trying to illustrate above, the messages surrounding this “standard” have been far from standardised … they have been flying in all kinds of directions. If corporate customers, banks and vendors are to invest serious money into this – they must know for sure what they get.
By the way … “standard” is defined as “a technical specification, imposed and / or widely accepted” :-)
Take care of each other – and the LC!
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