More security, lower costs: STEP2 Clearing with EBICS

Since the end of last year, EBA Clearing has offered EBICS alongside SWIFT as an access channel for STEP2. The blueprints of this system came from the German Bundesbank, which in 2008 had already integrated its SEPA clearer to SWIFT and EBICS. For what reasons does EBA Clearing offer EBICS access along with SWIFT? The motivation for this came from a few financial institutions and savings banks in Germany. Costs were a significant factor: With EBICS, there are no transaction costs associated with transmission.

In bilateral clearing between banks, known as "garage clearing" and used extensively in Germany, there are no costs incurred for clearing or transmission. Each bank involved in the transmission assumes the costs of transmission and clearing itself. Costs will obviously arise in terms of clearing when migrating to a centralised clearing system. To avoid further escalating costs, the expenses for transmission covered by every credit institution should be kept as low as possible. Since there are no transaction costs associated with transmission – apart from the actual running costs – the decision went in favour of EBICS.

A second aspect is even more important: Security! For interbank payment transactions the daily sums of money transferred are within the billions. Any interruptions of cash flow of a mere few hours can lead to faults which can have drastic economic ramifications. Therefore, the need for a backup transmission procedure for clearing in interbank payment transactions is rising. EBICS would also be an excellent solution to this, for example as a backup for SWIFT. EBICS and SWIFT are already used in parallel at a few banks for clearing. It also seems unlikely that regulators will be content with only one transmission procedure for much longer. In almost all areas of banking, security obligations have been tightened, such as through the PSD II. Further security measures on interbank payment transactions in the future are therefore unlikely to be out of the question.

Michael Lembcke

EBICS Working Group Meeting: Switzerland secures new momentum in EBICS

The Swiss EBICS Working Group intends to put forward its ideas, particularly on order types, in September. This was one of the main results of the EBICS Working Group meeting held on 28 August. For the first time since the start of the German-French EBICS cooperation, the event was held in Switzerland. The reason is that Switzerland is preparing for its participation in the EBICS community. At the Hotel Renaissance in Zurich, within walking distance of the Swiss applicant SIX Interbank Clearing, experts from each of the three countries discussed the current situation in Switzerland and the planned extension of the new payment transaction standard.

The debate kicked off in spectacular fashion, again set off by the question whether Switzerland should adopt Germany's order type model or the French file parameter variant (FUL/FDL) for national usage. Albert Apolloner, head of the Swiss EBICS Working Group explored the pros and cons of each solution from a Swiss vantage point. He concluded in favour of the file parameter variant, which already covers the basic demands of the Swiss financial market and is deemed more flexible than the order type model. The German delegates outlined their solution, whereby each transaction type can be allocated an issuer, for example Switzerland or a larger bank.

From this discussion, the idea arose to translate all German transaction types according to the logic of the file parameter model. The client software developer would then exclusively implement this logic into their clients' systems, which would be an interesting prospect for the extension to other markets like Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and other candidates. In order to minimise costs on the part of the German institutions (familiar three-figure order types are currently passed on to the late processing stages), a mapping in the bank computer products could be a feasible solution. The transaction type AZV would then become "", for example. In combination with the country code and the so-called "name/value pair", the requirements of each country and even other characteristics of major market players could be covered, for example the feature "This file has the specification Credit Suisse".

Unsurprisingly, the idea was not exactly met with a storm of enthusiasm on the German side. As a prospective vision for EBICS harmonisation, however, such a migration is not entirely inconceivable. During implementation, both models could surely continue to operate as standard for a transitional period. New markets would directly settle on the more universal FUL/FDL variant, to their own advantage.

In the second part of the conference, the issue of security was broached, in which Germany and France also have different approaches. Alain Hiltgen (UBS) suggested that there should be a recommendation in the EBICS Implementation Guide for using security tokens for retention of keys and certificates.

After lunch, Sabine Wenzel (SIZ) introduced the Swiss attendees with the EBICS community, the organisation and the decision-making processes for prospective expansion. According to the current plan, until the end of November 2014 it will be possible to submit a change request for the 2.6 release (to be put in effect in 2016). The Swiss Working Group intends to meet again in September to put forward further ideas, particularly on order types. Ideally, this can then already be discussed at the next conference of the international EBICS Working Group in Paris in November.

Conclusion: A very interesting forum for all EBICS enthusiasts. It left us with the impression that another player added to the team provides an additional boost to the further development of EBICS. More to follow.

Carsten Miehling