EBICS has arrived in Switzerland

Let us firstly take a look back at the seventh Petersberg Electronic Banking Forum held on 10 November 2011. Christian Schwinghammer from SIX Interbank Clearing Switzerland gives a presentation there on the topic "EBICS goes Europe - where is Switzerland?". Schwinghammer, an expert in the Swiss banking arena, was already rather confident that the standard will be implemented across all the Swiss financial institutions, particularly with two of the biggest heavyweights, UBS and Credit Suisse, already working with the EBICS communications channel.

However, the rapprochement often announced between the EBICS organisation and the Swiss delegates has been repeatedly delayed and has been progressing at glacial pace. Amid intensive tax dispute with Europe (on flat-rate withholding tax) and the US (FATCA), the topic of EBICS has taken a back seat on the part of the bank managers. Nevertheless, in early 2012, the EBICS working group, along with delegates of the Swiss banking giants were able to deliver an initial draft of the "EBICS Implementation Guide" to review.

Switzerland going solo in implementation guidelines

The Swiss implementation guidelines were created independently of the EBICS working group. This has been – and will continue to be – a topic of much debate. The working group for Swiss EBICS order types drew on the German prototype when dealing with freely available three-digit order types. For example, the order type "XKD" was allocated to the Swiss data carrier transfer process. Because UBS and Credit Suisse have primarily oriented their implementation to the German example and the three-digit order types are already in usage with customers, this model has become the de facto standard for Switzerland.

However, it seems that the Swiss often view the "FUL/FDL" model as a more flexible and architecturally elegant alternative. It has no connection to the German legacy of three-digit order types, which were already used in the previous protocol, FTAM. Moreover, it seems that in the expansion of the EBICS system across additional European countries and the world, the supply of three-digit combinations is dwindling. A changeover to the French model, however, would mean enormous costs.

Despite this prevailing discord, the Swiss seem to have definitively adopted EBICS. Its introduction across cantonal banks in Luzern this year and in Zurich early next year will deliver the much-needed impetus for distribution of the model across Switzerland. By all accounts, other cantonal banks are already at the starting line, evaluating EBICS-based solutions for their clients. In terms of joining the EBICS community, Switzerland has also made a lot of progress. There are specific offers on the table for entry into the community and the first tri-national summit of the EBICS working group is planned for August in Zurich.

It will be exciting to see how the “ménage-à-trois” will fare in practice. The Swiss could play an important role here, especially given their flair for diplomacy and multilingualism - rumour has it that the relationship between key stakeholders in Germany and France hasn't always been harmonic. The usage of the above-mentioned freely available order types in Switzerland is also a catalyst for a definitive change request directed toward the EBICS community (EB-14-DK-int04 OrderType with issuer). The use of an Issuer ID for each order type should facilitate the use of the same order types in another community. The Swiss order type for an order in the format "pain.001" (CCT) can easily be distinguished from the French and German formats, while an Issuer ID for the Swiss would be appended.

Carsten Miehling
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