The global financial cooperative Swift hopes to expand its role in the United States by linking small banks, securities firms, and nonfinancial companies to its SwiftNet global payment network.
Observers said the strategy shows the increasing value of this reliable, secure network to a growing number of players in a world that depends on electronic connections. They also said the plan would take Swift beyond its traditional realm: carrying payments instructions for high-value, international wire transfers.
Chris Church, who joined the cooperative in August as its chief executive of the Americas and its global head of securities, said his efforts to increase its profile in this country could get a boost from the economic crisis, which has prompted executives in nearly every industry to rethink their approach to banking.
"I think we are at an inflection point for the industry and for Swift," Mr. Church said in an interview last month. "You're going to have to do things differently. You are going to have to look at your cost base. Our whole mantra is driving down the total cost of ownership."
For Swift, formally the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, one crucial component to unlocking the U.S. market is a USB key, a digital encryption certificate that Mr. Church said has given smaller users access to SwiftNet.
Swift introduced the technology in September after testing it with JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The technology, used in a product being marketed as Alliance Lite, targets small banking companies and corporate clients that send and receive fewer than 200 payment messages a day and may not be able to justify investing in a dedicated connection to SwiftNet. Users load the software on to their computers and use USB storage devices plugged into the computer to encrypt messages, which are then sent across the Internet to a secure SwiftNet gateway.
Swift hopes to enlist its big-bank users to resell Alliance Lite to correspondent banks and corporate clients, perhaps under their own brand, Mr. Church said. "It's also a new way for us to do business, to reach out to nonbanks and smaller financial institutions."
More than 75 users have signed up for Alliance Lite.
He described Swift's strategy in the financial markets as two-pronged — promoting its "core messaging activity that we can do at scale" for traditional big-bank users, and reaching into new geographic areas and market segments. "Alliance Lite is part of our strategy of reach."
Michael Bosacco, a senior consultant at Treasury Strategies Inc., said banks could be valuable sales agents for Swift.
"There are not that many corporates that know Swift and understand how it operates," said Mr. Bosacco, who worked for the cooperative for a year before joining the Chicago consulting firm last November. "I think this is going to generate a significant amount of interest."
Previously a company that wanted to use SwiftNet to make payments had to install dedicated computer lines, and the project could take a year or more, he said. "This makes the connectivity very inexpensive" and easier to use.
Swift is in talks to expand its relationships with the Federal Reserve Board and The Clearing House Payments Co. LLC, which operate the U.S. wire transfer and automated clearing house networks, and with Depository Trust and Clearing Corp., the top clearing house for securities.
DTCC and Swift announced an agreement in July to provide access over SwiftNet to DTCC's Alternative Investment Products suite of services, and work together in other areas.
Henry C. Farrar, a senior vice president of The Clearing House, said his organization and the Fed have been working with Swift to coordinate the development of the next generation of wire transfers, which by the end of next year will incorporate information on the purpose of the payment, as well as the transaction instructions.
"We've been working pretty closely with Swift, probably closer now than we ever have in the past," said Mr. Farrar, who heads the Clearing House Interbank Payments System, the high-value system used primarily by large institutions.
Rather than becoming a competitor to Chips, Swift's low-cost system could help The Clearing House, he said. "It might help us drive the Chips application down to the next tier of banks."