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Until now, the lingua franca of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) network has been the ISO 7775 messaging standard. More recently, however, SWIFT is moving to adopt ISO 15022 and, in fact, will shortly be requiring all participants to support the standard. While switching to a new standard is always a chore, the transition to ISO 15022 will pay off in terms of faster, more flexible messaging.

When the International Organization for Standardization announced the introduction of ISO 15022 in 1997, the standard promised to improve the automated processing of messaging, or straight-through processing (STP), because of the greatly increased scope of the dictionary on which it is built. It would become simpler for translators, since the match between native language and lingua franca would be better.

A Better Attempt at a Universal Language

There are good reasons why ISO 15022 can claim to be better than legacy attempts at creating a universal message standard for securities messaging. The first one is the key concept of the data field dictionary (DFD). This introduces a layer of business element logic that ideally is independent of specific syntaxes and implementations. In linguistic terms: the dictionary is set. But how words are combined into sentences is another matter.

Key information such as “trade date,” “settlement amount” and “exchange rate” is referenced as metadata by a specific syntax to construct meaningful combinations such as “order to buy.” If another syntax (say FIX, the Financial Information eXchange) has a different grammar to construct the “order to buy,” it need not matter as long as both expressions reference the same metadata repository. The theory is that a translator will know both syntaxes, deconstruct the sentences into the metadata business elements and provide an unambiguous translation service without any “noise” or loss of meaning.

So ISO 15022 has better building blocks: more than 2,000 discrete business elements are currently described, and the list grows as this dictionary becomes a repository for all aspects of financial messaging. As SWIFT has become involved in initiatives such as the Global Straight Through Processing Association (GSTPA) and FIX, the relevant business elements have indeed been added.

What else does a superior language demand? Grammar? If we define grammar as the rules describing how well-formed sentences are constructed, it becomes clear that this is where the current ISO 15022 falls short of the mark. Rather than describing how business elements can be combined to convey meaning, ISO 15022 is more like a phrasebook: a limited list of sentences describing how to get by without knowing the workings of the local language, drawn up by someone else who decided what sentences you were most likely to use.


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