IBM to beef up payment-processing support

IBM Corp. has released details about an upcoming WebSphere product aimed at financial institutions with secure, high-volume payment-processing needs.

Due out later this year, WebSphere Financial Network Integrator will provide an integration infrastructure for financial networks. It will include a network integration hub, based on IBM’s middleware technology, plus extensions to support e-payment standards from financial industry groups SWIFT and Identrus LLC.

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a nonprofit consortium of financial institutions, offers messaging delivery services and software for fund transfers. On average, its FIN store-and-forward messaging service handles 6.9 million messages per day for 7,300 users – making SWIFT the world’s largest financial messaging services provider. Identrus is building a global security system based on digital signatures and public-key infrastructure technology that lets financial institutions verify the identity of companies sending payment instructions over the Internet.

The base WebSphere integration hub will perform common messaging functions such as security, event logging and tracking, message warehousing and administration, IBM says. Two add-ons target different areas of payments processing: back-end payments and securities message processing through the SWIFT network, and front-end payments through the Identrus system.

The back-end extension is aimed at financial institutions required to move to the upcoming IP-based SWIFTNet network services. SWIFT will soon migrate its services from an X.25 network to this IP-based network. The migration process will begin in August and conclude at the end of 2004, when SWIFT will stop support for X.25 access, the group says.

Last month, SWIFT announced it has resumed operation and ownership of its networks. The group previously had an exclusive agreement for network services with Global Crossing, which declared bankruptcy in January.

The SWIFTNet FIN extension will provide a migration path for those shifting messaging traffic over to the new SWIFTNet technology. It’s also intended for users of MERVA, IBM’s current mechanism for SWIFT message handling.

SWIFT support is important to financial services companies, says Mary Knox, Gartner senior research analyst covering the financial services industry. An integration platform with built-in support for SWIFTNet would seem to help foster the goal of straight-through transaction processing, Knox says.

Straight-through processing is the ability to handle a transaction from beginning to end in a fully automated fashion, “essentially automating a lot of what has been traditionally batch and manual processes that introduce a lot of latency and incredible capacity for error,” Knox says. Speed of transaction processing is a key issue as financial service companies work to shorten trade settlement periods to comply with pending rules from the Securities and Exchange Commission that call for “trade date plus one” settlement periods by June 2005.

The front-end extension will support the Identrus 4 corner payments model, so that financial institutions can perform trusted e-payment services for their corporate customers participating in e-commerce, IBM says. It supports Identrus’ Eleanor specification as well as Eleanor-based products including payment order, payment obligation, and certified payment obligation.

IBM says it will provide pricing information when the product is formally announced. Product availability is slated for later this year, in conjunction with the start of SWIFT’s service migration plans.