LONDON -- Competition for the lucrative business of handling global settlement and payments is mounting as telephone companies, banks, and others join the fray.

According to Eric Chiltern, chairman of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift). "The uniqueness of Swift as a sole provider is now a thing of the past."

The Brussels-based Swift is a centralized system that transmits money transfer instructions and computes net balances around the world. It is owned by 1,900 member banks in 72 countries.

No one knows how much money is carried by Swift. Messages are unseen by humans for security reasons.

"The major threat is from banks' private networks. Many banks are reviewing whether or not to push more business through their local networks rather than using Swift," said finance director Michel Peeters.

A growing number of banks are looking at using their own networks for sending electronic messages from one region to another or from a regional center to their head office, said Mr. Peeters.

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