Swift, the bank-owned financial messaging service, is developing a lower-cost Windows-based software interface to attract smaller institutions.

Swift, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is a global network that links more than 4,700 banks, securities firms, and stock exchanges in 129 countries. Institutions exchange payment instructions and securities transfer details over the network using standard computer formats.

The entry-level software, called Swift Alliance Entry, will run on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT operating system. It will replace a system called ST200, a low-volume messaging product that has been in use for nearly seven years and is fast becoming obsolete.

All participants pay the same to join Swift - about $13,000. But computer interface costs present an additional hurdle.

Large banks and brokerage houses build Swift interfaces into their own funds transfer systems or pay the network $40,000 to $70,000 for a turnkey package of software and hardware.

Such outlays are justified by heavy volume - these users originate 20,000 to 50,000 messages daily. But the cost puts the network out of reach for many smaller institutions that might otherwise want to participate, said Euan Sellar, a spokesman for the Brussels-based network. Alternatives for these banks include correspondent banks, telexes, faxes, or proprietary networks for sending and receiving payment instructions.

Swift Alliance Entry is being designed for these smaller banks. It's meant to handle up to 500 messages a day and will cost about $20,000.

Observers said the move to Windows software was the beginning of Swift's "friendlier" architecture for payment message originations. Officials said this would be extended to Swift's other, larger-volume interface products.

"The format of the traditional Swift message has not been fun to work with," observed one banker who asked for anonymity. "Going to a (graphical) front end, whether it's Windows or something else, moves them into the modern era."

Swift Alliance Entry will be available early in 1996.

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