Microsoft Azure looks to make cloud-native payments SWIFTer

Financial messaging to get a bit more, er, agile

Microsoft and money-message flinger SWIFT have announced a proof of concept aimed at demonstrating that Azure could be a good fit for the financial network's infrastructure.

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) is geared up to allow financial institutions to exchange or receive information on financial transactions. While it doesn't actually transfer funds, the SWIFTNet messaging platform connects more than 11,000 institutions and corporate customers across over 200 countries for the purpose of, for example, payment instructions.

Microsoft's own Treasury group is the initial user of the cloudy implementation. The group deals with over $400bn per year in SWIFT-based payments to support operations in more than 190 countries, and so is a good candidate for kicking the tyres of the tech.

The system has Microsoft Treasury sending an instruction through SAP on Azure. Machine learning algorithms, which seem to be compulsory in any new technology, validate the instruction before sending it on to SWIFT via Microsoft's SWIFT installation in the cloud. SWIFT then sends the message to the appropriate bank and returns the bank's confirmation back to Microsoft.

The potential to use artificial intelligence to validate the authenticity of a SWIFT message will be of particular interest to financial institutions.

Over 7.1 billion messages were squirted onto SWIFT's network in 2017, and the outfit lays claim to 99.999 per cent availability. SWIFT stated that it operates a "zero-risk approach to failure", which makes the decision to take a punt on Azure an interesting one.

Azure's Service Level Agreements (SLA) vary according to the selected service and, like many of its contemporaries, are more along the lines of "We'll try to keep things up and running, but we'll give you a refund if it falls over". Additionally, not all of Azure's services reach the current 99.999 per cent threshold SWIFT trumpets for itself.

Azure's CosmosDB can get there, but other services, such as the Machine Learning Studio, hover at 99.95 or 99.9 per cent, depending on functionality.

George Zinn, corporate veep and Microsoft treasurer, naturally reckoned the shift of the service to Microsoft's cloud was a "significant step forward for the payments industry" and would provide "increased business agility, security and compliance". The announcement also claims the proof of concept "creates a bank-like wire transfer experience".

It is unusual to find the words "bank-like" in same the text as "agility". By adding Azure into the mix, SWIFT reckoned there is also potential to improve back-office efficiency.

The first Azure "cloud native" payment has already been made and the duo plan to make the tech available as a private preview "in the near future". ®

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