Due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, there have been several sanctions applied to Russia by different countries, and lately one of the most talked-about, and already agreed upon by the European Union, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom is its exclusion from the SWIFT system. But what is SWIFT and what are the consequences of excluding Russian banks from this system?
SWIFT, or Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is the primary communications channel for banks internationally that facilitates cross-border transfers requests, and does the record-keeping for transactions between banks around the world. Contrary to what some may think, the SWIFT system is not a payment system, but a communication one. The exclusion of financial institutions from this system prevents them from using it and benefiting from its facilitated transactions with other banks, but does not prevent them from performing those transactions. Instead, they will have to use other communication channels that might take more time, delay business, and even make it more expensive (SIC Notícias, 2022). Some countries like Germany have been reluctant about this sanction due to their “reliance on the SWIFT for closing settlements, for example for oil and gas” (Cheung, 2022), on which they are heavily dependent, and which may cause their prices to rise. Despite the impact of excluding SWIFT from Russian Banks, Iran’s experience shows that asset freezes, transaction prohibitions and fines can be more effective (Alphaville, 2022). The effectiveness of these other sanctions compared with excluding banks from SWIFT was also demonstrated in Iran by the fact that, even after signing the 2015 Iran Nuclear agreement and after the banks were readmitted to the messaging system again, they were unable to transact with any of the major financial institutions due to the other sanctions.
Ultimately excluding Russia from the SWIFT system will have some impacts on the economy but one should be aware of other sets of sanctions that we might be insufficiently paying attention to (Gollom, 2022) and that can have a larger impact.
– Gollom, Mark. 2022. “How expelling Russia from SWIFT could impact the country. And why there’s reluctance to do so.” [online] Available at: < https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/swift-sanctions-russia-banking-ukraine-1.6365146>
– Alphaville, FT. 2022. “Iran’s experience signals banning Swift will not work as expected.” [online] Available at: < https://www.ft.com/content/e8705d48-bfea-4f95-af3b-af13c1e4305d>
– Notícias, SIC. 2022. “O que é o SWIFT e quais as consequências da exclusão de alguns bancos russos do sistema?.” [online] Available at: < https://sicnoticias.pt/mundo/conflito-russia-ucrania/o-que-e-o-swift-e-quais-as-consequencias-da-exclusao-de-alguns-bancos-russos-do-sistema/.>
– Cheung, Brian. 2022. “What is SWIFT and why does it matter to markets?.” [online] Available at: < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAzzqhheOsw>
Student of the Bachelor’s Degree in Economics
Nova School of Business and Economics