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Searching for Enlightenment?

The new book 'ISO 20022 For Dummies' has all the answers!

22 October 12

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Demystifying ISO 20022

The ISO 20022 standard1 lies at the heart of . The rulebooks that describe the flows of data between participants mandate the use of ISO 20022 for messages exchanged by financial institutions. They also recommend that the standard be used in the customer-to-bank space. Despite the groundbreaking work of the community in adopting ISO 20022 however, a great deal of confusion still surrounds the new standard in the financial industry at large.

As a key stakeholder in ISO 20022, and a long-term advocate of the standard's ability to transform automation in the financial industry, SWIFT2 has long worked to dispel this widespread confusion over ISO 20022's purpose and potential. To address this issue, SWIFT Standards, together with ISO and the publishers John Wiley & Sons, will launch the new book "ISO 20022 For Dummies" on 26 October 2010 at Sibos Amsterdam, which aims to demystify ISO 20022 once and for all.

The book follows the well-known "For Dummies" formula of informal, easy-to-use knowledge reference books, recognisable by their bright yellow covers and cartoon graphics. Its 52 pages cover the origin of the standard, the workings of the ISO organisation that promotes and maintains it, and crucially, the unique role ISO 20022 can play in enabling business process automation across the financial industry.

From the book: Things to tell your CIO about ISO 20022:

  1. ISO 20022 is a methodology for defining financial messages - a standard for standards, so to speak.
  2. Currently, 260 messages have been defined, and there are many more on the way.
  3. It's not just about messages - ISO 20022 provides a common language for machines and people to exchange information about financial business. This common language is set out in a formal dictionary.
  4. ISO 20022 is a business standard; its principal focus is on the content of the dictionary, rather than the technicalities of how data is exchanged.
  5. You can use the dictionary to help translate between messages that use different syntaxes, and to solve other kinds of problems where a shared understanding of the business is important, such as internal system integration.
  6. Although ISO 20022 messages are mostly exchanged in XML, ISO 20022 doesn't depend on a specific message syntax, so if a different syntax is required to satisfy a business or technical requirement, or a new syntax emerges, ISO 20022 can accommodate it.
  7. ISO 20022 adoption is gathering pace in major markets around the world.
  8. ISO 20022 is an open standard that anyone can use, and to which anyone can contribute.

"Writing the book was a true team effort involving SWIFT staff and external contributors - a great example of industry collaboration," explains Gottfried Leibbrandt, SWIFT's Head of Marketing. The outline of the book was written by Gottfried, with a working title of "10 Simple Questions about ISO 20022". This material was expanded by numerous experts in the SWIFT Standards department, resulting in a draft that was distributed within SWIFT and to several prominent experts in the wider ISO community for comments and suggestions. Many of these were incorporated in the final text.

Some in the ISO organisation put their stamp of approval on the document through a contribution: Karla McKenna, Chair of ISO Technical Committee 68 / Financial Services submitted a foreword, and the ISO secretariat provided useful background information on the organisation's structure and mission. SWIFT then began the process of dummification - converting the factual content of the book into the familiar "For Dummies" style.

At SWIFT, we believe that ISO 20022 is the right way forward for standardisation in the financial industry. Yet, its full benefits can only be realised if the industry engages across the board. To share the ISO 20022 vision, however, it is necessary to grasp the principles governing this methodology. Given the time and effort usually required to navigate the mysterious (to most) straits of messaging standards, the general understanding of ISO 20022 to-date remains quite vague. Not surprisingly then, the launch of "ISO 20022 For Dummies" is eagerly awaited by many in the standardisation and payments communities. Preliminary feedback was universally positive and stressed the market need for this publication. "ISO 20022 For Dummies" provides key information in a form that is clear, concise and accessible to readers who do not happen to be professionally involved in the process of setting financial industry standards.

Gerard Hartsink, Convener of the ISO 20022 Registration Management Group and Chair of the , points out: "I am extremely supportive of this initiative. More people should understand what ISO 20022 is all about. Communication is very important for that reason: ISO 20022 should not be a 'secret language' of experts only."

If you are at Sibos 2010, do not miss the launch party!

"ISO 20022 For Dummies" is launched on 26 October 2010 at the Standards Forum at Sibos. As is always the case with the standards crowd, this is set to be a fun and informative event:Dominic Hobson, executive editor of Global Custodian, will interview Gottfried Leibbrandt about ISO 20022 and the motivation behind the book. Copies of the book will be available for all who attend; those who can't make it to the launch will be able to download an electronic copy of the book from

The interest already shown by so many in the industry for this reference guide is encouraging; the enthusiasm to learn more about ISO 20022 is promising.

Jamie Shay is Head of Standards at SWIFT. Stephen Lindsay is Head of Automation, Standards at SWIFT.

Related links: (This link also gives access to the ISO 200222 Newsletter)

Related articles in this issue:

The Global Data Highway. The ISO 20022 catalogue of financial services messages: a progress report

Facing Up to the IT Challenge. Choosing the right IT strategy for SEPA compliance

Related articles in previous issues:

Improving the Bottom Line. ISO 20022 meets key corporate expectations ( Newsletter, Issue 3, July 2009)

The silent Revolution. The impact of ISO 20022 on payments services in general and SEPA in particular ( Newsletter, Issue 3, July 2009)

Take Payments to the next Level. Benefits of ISO 20022 for bank customers: improved control and increased efficiency ( Newsletter, Issue 3, July 2009)


1 The International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) is a global organisation of national standards bodies. ISO 20022 aims to give the financial industry a standard platform for the development of messages. See also link to the ISO 20022 web site under 'Related Links'.

2 SWIFT is a member-owned cooperative that provides the communications platform, products and services to connect more than 9,000 banking organisations, securities institutions and corporate customers in 209 countries. SWIFT enables its users to exchange automated, standardised financial information securely and reliably, thereby lowering costs, reducing operational risk and eliminating operational inefficiencies. SWIFT also brings the financial community together to work collaboratively to shape market practice, define standards and debate issues of mutual interest.

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