System for transfer of financial messages (SPFS) is a “Russian analogue to SWIFT” that has been developed by the Bank of Russia since 2014. That software package is designed to create and process documents in UFEBS (Unified Formats of Electronic Banking Messages) and MT formats. List of supported types of messages currently includes 50 of them (including technical messages) with CyberFT supporting over 100 of them.
In pursuance of the Letter of the Bank of Russia dated September 9, 2014 that advised testing and using ED503 (previous name of the SPFS), according to the Bank of Russia in 2015 more than 230 Russian banks joined the system with total number surpassing 300. Estimating the progress of the process, market participants have been taking the opposite stances ranging from “the system has shown itself well” to “banks are not interested in using domestic services instead of the convenient SWIFT and they can only be moved to the SPFS by force”. http://izvestia.ru/news/601876
One of the reasons behind the totally opposite opinions of experts is complexity and high costs of the joining procedure for becoming an SPFS member. From the organizational point of view the process is well oiled; formation of the relevant agreement takes 2 to 3 weeks. However, experience has proven that it is implementation of technical regulations that becomes a problem, specifically, installation of the Terminal and connection to the bank network.
SPFS developers claimed that for transmitting messages via their system it would be possible to use standard procedures for exporting journal entries from the Automated Banking System (ABS) (UFEBS). http://www.cbr.ru/psystem/files/UFEBS_2016_1_0.pdf, but in practice in order to support new formats ABS requires some follow-up tweaking. On average, it took ABS development companies about six months to integrate with SPFS, whereas some developers, e.g. Inversion http://inversion.ru, haven’t implemented the support still. Others, e.g. CFT and Diasoft, to compensate for their development costs introduced license fees for modules enabling operation of SPFS. http://catalog.cft.ru/cftbank/SitePages/App.aspx?ID=5833 For instance, price for the CFT products is $10,000 for the basic package (http://catalog.cft.ru/cftbank/SitePages/App.aspx?ID=5833) plus support (30% of the amount per annum).
Unfortunately, due to the increased security measures, banks exchanging information via SPFS also have to bear substantial time costs and financial costs. When it comes to IT security of SPFS, recommendations are similar to those for the payment system of the Bank of Russia. As a result, banks have to use additional technological, hardware & software, as well as data protection cryptographic facilities together, and comply with security recommendations of not only Bank of Russia, but those of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation as well. And in event that there is a smallest shade of doubt in the level of the counterparty’s IT security, information and payment documents are not to be sent via SPFS altogether. http://izvestia.ru/news/630251
Stifling restrictions are imposed by the jurisdiction of the Bank of Russia, which is defined by the borders of Russia; not only foreign banks, but also financial institutions from CIS that account for over 25% of the total amount of the information exchange, may not join SPFS.
Reasons stifling exposure and popularization of SPFS can also include:
- High message cost (1.5 to 2.5 rubles per message; EUR 0.022-0.036 at the exchange rate of the Central Bank of Russia as at December 7, 2016 https://www.cbr.ru/PSystem/files/OD-854.pdf).
- No option for sending multiple registers as part of one message.
- Continuous technical gaps in operation of SPFS (system is unavailable for sending electronic messages from 9 PM to 7 AM (GMT+3), as well as during weekends and public holidays, see pages 11-12 of the Order of the Bank of Russia No. OD-859 dated April 21, 2015 http://www.cbr.ru/psystem/files/OD-859.PDF).
As evidenced by the experience of the CyberPlat’s clearing bank – Platina Bank – that is more than competent in transactions:
- SPFS supports a limited number of financial messages. This means at this point it is pretty much pointless to talk about a full scale solution.
- When connecting to SPFS banks have to undergo a complicated procedure of entering into agreements with the Bank of Russia and separate agreements with each system member (i.e. total number of agreements for 100 banks will be (formula for N banks): N*(N-1) / 2, which is 4,950 agreements for 100 banks).
- Mandatory integration of ABS of each bank participating in SPFS; that being said, there are no out-of-the-box integration solutions for ABS systems of some developers in the market.
- Technological difficulties of connecting to SPFS result in the situation where time gap from signing the agreement to processing the first transaction may be over a year and a half.
- Transactions cannot be processed on weekends and public holidays, as wall as outside of the business hours from 9 PM to 7 AM.
- SPFS network has a star topology, meaning all data goes through a single center. Message confidentiality is debatable, because messages are available to the system operator.
- Technological materials regarding system usage are often insufficient.