Cryptocurrencies |Analysis

Are US demands on SWIFT about Iran or digital supremacy?

  1. SWIFT is a global provider of banking transaction services based in Belgium
  2. The United States says SWIFT should cease financial transactions with Iran or face punishments
  3. Ripple is a U.S.-based potential SWIFT competitor that provides payment services based on cryptocurrency
  4. US marginalization of SWIFT could help pave way for Ripple to edge into market

Talk (26)


Ranjit Swain


Ranjit Swain


Terry Schon


Christian Felde

On June 6, the Financial Times reported the administration of President Donald J. Trump is planning punishments for any company doing business with Iran. A company that could be affected by U.S. sanctions is the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, commonly known as SWIFT. Founded in 1973, SWIFT is a global provider of secure financial messaging and transaction services commonly used by banks around the world.

The United States has stated that SWIFT must cease financial transactions with Iran or face frozen assets and other punishments.

But is the Trump administration’s demand really about Iran? Or is it an attempt by the United States government to conquer the international payment market and its data?

Why US dominates digital economy

The United States dominates most digital markets via search engines, social media, website builders and operating systems based in the country. Through these platforms and others, the United States likely has access to the data and information of not only American citizens, but citizens and companies worldwide. This unique access to worldwide data is the basis of the United States’ primacy in the digital economy.

However, one essential item is missing in the country’s data bucket: control of international payment transactions.

SWIFT is a cooperative company that says it connects more than 11,000 financial institutions worldwide. It maintains a secure messaging system banks use for international transactions. The company is headquartered in Belgium, but has data centers in the Netherlands and United States, with backup facilities in Switzerland.

SWIFT values its neutrality and goes to great lengths to prevent outside parties gaining access to its financial messages and transaction records.

On October 23, 2013, the EU parliament passed a resolution suspending the international Terrorist Finance Tracking Program “as a result of US National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance.” The resolution was a reaction to news that the NSA had created illegal backdoors into SWIFT servers located in the United States in order to tap into international payment records.

A second NSA hack of SWIFT payment information was reported in April 2017 in the American Banker. That publication reported the NSA had managed to gain access to SWIFT data on some Middle Eastern banks by hacking a third-party facilitator of SWIFT connectivity located in Dubai through an unsecured patch in MS Windows.

A crypto challenger emerges

A possible American competitor to SWIFT is the California-based crypto company Ripple. Ripple provides an international payment system based on cryptocurrency. Ripple is aggressively promoting its operation (Forbes) as an alternative to SWIFT for fast international transactions between banks.

The Financial Times reported Ripple has a $15 billion war chest to finance a hoped-for takeover of the international payment market. The company was founded in 2012. To date, more than 100 financial institutions have signed up with Ripple, which establishes it as a potential competitor to SWIFT.

If Ripple manages to displace SWIFT as the world’s primary facilitator of international banking transactions, it would mean a replacement of a neutral international nonprofit organization (SWIFT) by a for-profit company (Ripple) subject to California and U.S. laws governing international financial payments.

Ripple uses a distributed encrypted ledger. Each user has a copy of the ledger providing full payment information.

US interest in global financial data

The safety of data in the United States is unclear. An 2017 article published by Thomson Reuters describes a panoply of federal privacy-related laws that regulate the collection and use of personal data.

However, in a November 2017 report from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee regarding the extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden wrote in his minority opinion: “Under current law, the CIA, NSA and FBI can conduct these searches for no other reason than that they reasonably believe the searches will turn up foreign intelligence information.”

Having made at least two attempts to hack SWIFT, the U.S. government appears highly interested in international payment data. If the global preference for making international payments migrated from SWIFT to Ripple, the U.S. government would have much easier access to information on global payment transactions, and could theoretically access that information without informing the parties involved. Such an outcome would vastly increase U.S. control over international payment transactions.

Even if a legal government seizure of records didn’t occur, there’s a reasonable chance of a breach via a software backdoor to the data. Outsiders can’t verify the data security of Ripple.

A SWIFT response

In December 2017, SWIFT published an opinion article about blockchain technology (which is used by Ripple) in an IM Forum. The report claimed blockchain cannot yet handle one million financial transactions a minute, as SWIFT says it currently does. The report stated that a standard for international transactions should carry money from national banks, backed by governments instead of cryptocurrencies with no official backing or only the backing of a commercial company.

Financial transactions are not secure, because encrypted transactions might be reverse-engineered. Only a semi-centralized version of blockchain technology could be secure.

SWIFT concludes that widely distributed confidential information (such as its rival Ripple’s ledger) can never be completely safe.

What implications does an American company keeping records on the financial transaction data of the world have on a socioeconomic scale?

Sources & References


Title article: Ripple XPR vs. SWIFT – A revalry that has barely started

Author – Date: Ali Qamar 7th June 2018

Ripple XRP vs. SWIFT – A rivalry that has barely started – Global Coin Report

Ripple (XRP) has stated its next main goal is that major bank entities would fully adopt their product xRapid at the end of the year, a fact that, of course, puts Swift, the current cross-border payment platform in use, in not the best position. Let’s find out how this rivalry goes!



Title article: Swift shows impact of Iran dispute on international business
Financial Times

Author – Date: Michael Peel and Jim Brunsden in BrusselsJUNE 6, 2018


Subscribe to read

Become an FT Subscriber. Gain a global perspective on the US and go beyond with curated news and analysis from 600 journalists in 50+ countries covering politics, business, innovation, trends and more. Choose the subscription that is right for you Not sure which package to choose?





Title Article: Ripple and Swift slug it out over cross-border payments

Financial Times

Author – Date:Martin ArnoldJUNE 6, 2018


Ripple and Swift slug it out over cross-border payments

A rivalry is raging that looks set to decide how cross-border payments are handled for decades to come. It is a contest that encapsulates much of the debate about blockchain and cryptocurrencies, pitting a start-up company betting heavily on these new technologies against a long-established group arguing for more incremental change.




Title article: Rise of Bitcoin Competitor Ripple Creates Wealth to Rival Zuckerberg

New York Times

Author – Date: Nathaniel Popper 4th January 2018


Rise of Bitcoin Competitor Ripple Creates Wealth to Rival Zuckerberg

SAN FRANCISCO – The virtual currency boom has gotten so heated that it is throwing the list of the world’s richest people into disarray. Consider what has happened to the founders of an upstart virtual currency known as Ripple, which has seen its value skyrocket in recent weeks.





Title article: Did Ripple Hijack The Swift Conference, Or Merely Borrow Some Audience?


Author – Date: Tom Groenfeldt

Did Ripple Hijack The Swift Conference, Or Merely Borrow Some Audience?

Share to email Share to facebook Share to twitter Share to linkedin Share to google I write about finance and technology. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. When Swift held its annual Sibos conference in Toronto the week of October 16, it had some competition in attracting the attention of bankers.

Senate Report 115-182

From the U.S. Government Publishing Office

Date : 7th November 2017

Subject : FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017

Report from Mr. Burr, from the Select Committee on Intelligence.



Senate Report 115-182] [From the U.S. Government Publishing Office] Calendar No. 252 115th Congress} { Report SENATE 1st Session } { 115-182 ====================================================================== FISA AMENDMENTS REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2017 _______ November 7, 2017.–Ordered to be printed _______ Mr. Burr, from the Select Committee on Intelligence, submitted the following R E P O R T together with ADDITIONAL AND MINORITY VIEWS [To accompany S.






Title article: Blockchain company Ripple says it has $15bn war chest

Financial Times

Author – Date: Martin Arnold in London  OCTOBER 10, 2017


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Become an FT Subscriber. Gain access to global coverage from local journalists on the ground in 50+ countries working around the clock to break news, analyze, spot risks and opportunities. Join over 300,000 Finance professionals who already subscribe to the FT. Choose the subscription that is right for you Not sure which package to choose?



Title article: Data protection in the United States: overview

Thomson Reuters

Author – Date: Leuan Jolly, Loeb & Loeb



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No Description




Title article: Alleged NSA hack of Swift service bureau revives ‘back door’ debate

American Banker

Author – Date: 17th April 2017 Penny Crosman

Alleged NSA hack of Swift service bureau revives ‘back door’ debate

Reports that the National Security Agency infiltrated bank servers through a Swift service bureau highlight a recurring concern for financial institutions about the unintended consequences of U.S. government snooping.



Title article: Why Swifts Days are Numbered, and What’s Next

Date: 3 January 2017





Title report : SWIFT Distributed Ledgers, Smart Contract, Business Standards and ISO 2022

Author – Date: 2018

No Title

No Description






Title report: SWIFT Annual review 2016

Author – Date: 2017


No Title

No Description



Title report: SWIFT on distributed ledger technologies – Position paper

Author – Date: April 2016 – Accenture Frederic Le Borne, David Treat, Fernand Dimidschtein, Chris Brodersen


SWIFT and Accenture outline path to Distributed Ledger Technology adoption within financial services

London, 20 April 2016 – SWIFT announces today the availability of a new paper investigating how Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs) could be used in financial services. Published in collaboration with Accenture, the paper is based on an in-depth technology assessment by SWIFT of DLT usage across financial institutions, highlighting the opportunities as well as the challenges for industry wide adoption.

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