Bringing the Financial Sector Together
Originally known as the SWIFT International Banking Seminar, SIBOS is the world’s largest, and arguably most prestigious, financial services event. The next one is due to be held in Amsterdam in October, and this article takes a look at the event’s history, its current status, and aspirations…
SIBOS, which was previously known as the SWIFT International Banking Seminar, is the world’s most prestigious financial services event in the world, the website itself describing it as the ‘world’s premier event since 1978’. Figure one shows the history of the event since its inception toward the end of the 1970s.
In that first event, there were only approximately 300 people in attendance, and it was held in Brussels, Belgium. The event itself is organized by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, more commonly known as SWIFT. SWIFT is a Belgian cooperative (and hence it is no coincidence that the first conference took place there, in Brussels).
Essentially, SWIFT provides a platform for local and international monetary transactions for banks and other related financial institutions and entities and also associated services (for example communication). It is, by far, the primary messaging network through which financial transactions take place across the world. Under Belgian law, SWIFT is owned by the composite of its members – the participating financial institutions. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, in 2015 around 6.2 billion messages were sent via the SWIFT platform. This number had risen to 9.5 billion by 2020.
SWIFT has become so important to the financial infrastructure of the globe that when Russia invaded Ukraine, it was immediately floated as an idea to ban Russian banks from the platform as a unified international punitive measure against the country; on the very day Russian forces entered Ukrainian sovereign territory, the Ukrainian government requested that the Russians be ousted from the platform.
It was reported by CBS News in April this year that there are around 300 Russian banks that rely on the SWIFT network and that Russia had the second highest user base in the world after the US. With the SWIFT platform having become such an influential scaffold in world economics, it is not surprising that the SIBOS conference has grown into the premier event that it is.
The SIBOS event, when it began, was very much a European affair. Since the company was based in Belgium, it is logical that the event would set down its roots there and then spread. It took five years before the seminar was to be held outside of Europe.
In 1982 it shifted to Washington in the US. It would be another five years before the event ventured outside European confines: this time in Montreal in Canada in 1987, and one of only three events to be held in that country to date. By this time, SIBOS was attracting a considerable following and within four years –1991 – the first event was held in Asia, in Hong Kong to be precise.
Six years on from that, and just shy of its 20-year anniversary, SIBOS was held in Australia for the first time, in Sydney in 1997, and one of only three events ever to be hosted by that country.
The Singaporean SIBOS became historical in 2001 as the first conference ever to be canceled. This was due to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on 11th September. Nine years on from that, the 2010 Amsterdam SIBOS saw the largest ever event in the 32 years of the conference up to that point.
Another nine years on again and in 2019 London hosted the conference for the first time, which resulted in the largest event in the history of SIBOS ever. The following year, when SIBOS was due to be held in Boston, it had to be cancelled due to the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic. Consequently, it was turned into a digital event, as was also the case for the 2021 SIBOS which had been planned to be held in Singapore.
The Modern Agenda
The 2022 event is due to be held in Amsterdam on 10-13th October. There will be in excess of 250 speakers from all over the world and from a variety of sectors. The theme for the upcoming event is ‘Progressive finance for a changing world,’ which – although somewhat vague - intends to focus on the need for digital transformation, adapt to new risks, and push toward green, sustainable, and ethical work practices. Indeed, the SIBOS website describes this occurring over eight stages and through 150 conference sessions.
Inevitably, the agenda of SIBOS over the years has changed quite dramatically. The emergence of new problems and new solutions, new technologies and business practices, and the fact that there are many more people on the planet in 2022, have all had an impact on the evolution of the SIBOS agenda over its near 42-year existence.
In 2021, items that were brought up for scrutiny were climate change, human trust in technology, the physics of mass data analysis for business, issues, and advances with cross-border payments, scaling up AI for business communities, the dispute and settlement cycle, Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), global supply chains, encryption money futures, office and remote-based work concepts, and confidential computing possibilities.
All the issues listed above are certainly worthy of discussion. Perhaps the current critical issues laying at the heart of global finance however are but two, technology and sustainability. For the most part, everything that is listed above falls either into one or other category, sits to varying degrees between them (think Venn diagram), or will naturally arise with the pursuit of one or other of them.
What with the size of SIBOS, its prestige, and as a result, its now potential considerable influence in global finance, it is remarkable how the event is still owned and organized by a single financial entity (even if that entity – SWIFT – is a conglomerate of financial enterprises).
Perhaps the event might serve the global financial community even better if it became a fully independent one (the ‘grand opening of the event saw two out of the three presenters being SWIFT members: Yawar Shah (chair and SWIFT Board of Directors), and Javier Perez-Tasso (SWIFT Chief Executive Officer)).
Given the history and evolution of the event, it might be time for SWIFT to hand over the reins so that further diversification of the issues could be addressed. Either way, it seems SIBOS is set to continue to mobilize the world’s financial sector for a long time to come.