Everything you need to know about Sibos


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It sounds like something from Doctor Who. But for those involved, it dominates conversations this time of year. In the world of global banking Sibos is the peak season for business meetings, making deals and networking.

" What started out as an initiative to ensure banks were speaking the same language when they sent funds cross-border has now grown into global financial infrastructure.”

Originally the SWIFT International Banking Operations Seminar – SWIFT as in the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication – this banking spectacular has become just ‘Sibos’.

Sibos is less of a mouthful, for a start. But crucially it’s now much more than a seminar. Today it’s an international conference which attracts thousands of delegates from the broad world of financial services to a different location around the world each year, dissecting all the latest trends and developments and setting the agenda for calendar 2019.

Banking? Covered. New fintech? Covered. Esoteric cryptocurrency? Boy has Sibos got you covered.

Sydney’s October 2018 Sibos is the confab’s 40th birthday. What started as an initiative to ensure banks were speaking the same language when they sent funds cross-border has now grown into a critical event in the global financial infrastructure calendar.

So just what is Sibos? What is it about? What’s on the agenda? Read on to find out….


To succeed in the global marketplace, modern banks must have relationships with other financial institutions around the world to facilitate payments and trade finance – relationships which are increasingly digital.

This creates a mix of competition and cooperation at Sibos, with some banks being competitors while also needing other institutions to be partners – or clients – to make sure they have the reach in markets where they don’t have a presence.

The nature of this 'correspondent' banking is changing and the annual event of Sibos gives participants a chance to reflect on the state of the industry. The increasingly digital state is reflected in the theme in Sydney: ‘enabling the digital economy’.

Most people first hear of SWIFT when they need to make an international payment and their bank asks them for the SWIFT code - necessary to make sure the money lands in the right account on the other side of the globe.

A report from the Bank of International Settlements, the global banking regulator, shows what the traffic in this correspondent banking network looks like, using SWIFT message data from 2011 to 2015.

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The picture could be even more complex: “If payments are rerouted through third countries, this could even lead to an increase in correspondent banking activity,” the report said.

What to listen out for

Two big themes set to dominate the conference are the emergence of open APIs and the rollout of ISO 20022, a new set of payment rules for SWIFT participants.

APIs - application-programming interfaces- pose a huge opportunity for banks and their data and could well determine their success.

“Open APIs have revolutionised mobile technology, and regulators would like to apply the same principles to the financial services industry to make it more open and competitive,” SWIFT said.

Adoption of open APIs will see the industry reposition around the “core digital imperatives of personalisation, enhanced speed of response, transparency, and frictionless delivery of services.”

“The emergence of open APIs heralds a fundamental transformation of payment processes and data flows, not least for banks,” Sibos Issues, the event’s newsroom, said.

ISO 2002 is a new series of rules applying to financial messaging between fund-transfer participants

“By 2023, all major high-value payments systems will be using ISO 20022 messaging and cross-border payments traffic will likely follow suit,” Sibos Issues said.

So what do banks need to do as their clients adjust to new realities? Large institutions must significantly transform – the corporate equivalent of turning around a super-tanker.

“Being digital is not just about technology and tools and process efficiency,” ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott recently told Sibos Issues. “It’s about thinking differently about what customers want.”

“Everything is changing at such a great pace – we don’t know what the future will hold – so we need to ensure we can anticipate and react quickly.”


Elliott will address Sibos delegates at the event’s Opening Plenary session when it kicks off. It is customary for a leader from the host country to welcome delegates to capture the tone of the banking industry.

In Toronto in 2017 RBC CEO Dave McKay explained how data is the new battleground; in Geneva in 2016, Thomas Jordan of the Swiss National Bank spoke of the risks and opportunities of innovation.

In Singapore the year before that Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS, spoke of how disruptive Chinese innovation would be in the future. In 2014 in Boston, James Forese, Co-President of Citi, said banks must digitise or be left behind.

Usually the speaker delivers a keynote address but this year the format will be different. In an on-the-couch session Elliott will chat with broadcast journalist Juliette Foster.

In the same session, SWIFT’s Chairman of the Board, Yawar Shah, and SWIFT’s CEO, Gottfried Leibbrandt, will share their perspectives on how the industry has changed and how SWIFT will address the challenges ahead. 

In recent years the topics at Sibos have focused on the ramifications of the global financial crisis, digital disruption and fintech, as well as the increasing importance of cybersecurity for financial institutions. 

SWIFT began in 1973 with 239 banks from 15 countries on board. Their financial messaging services went live in 1977 and a year later it hosted its first seminar. SWIFT has now grown to more than 200 countries, connecting more than 11,000 institutions.

The first operations seminar in 1978 was held in Brussels, Belgium, and had 300 participants. Over the years, more people realised this was the meeting place of bankers and so others joined in. These days at Sibos, you can expect to find technology vendors, consultants, fintech entrepreneurs, journalists and more.

The show

Sydney is playing host to the event for the third time and it will be hosted at the International Convention Centre from October 22 to October 25. The venue’s capacity is 8,000. Last year in Toronto there were more than 8,000 in attendance. The record event so far was Amsterdam which had 9,600 participants in 2010. 

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Aside from the conference program which SWIFT organises, the event has vast exhibition halls akin to a motor or boat show. On the organisations’ stands are meeting rooms where the people who comprise the correspondent banking network – which enables cross-border payments and international trade – do business.

Jane Cooper is a bluenotes contributor and former journalist who covered the Sibos beat as Transaction Banking Editor for The Banker, a Financial Times publication.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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