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The ISO20022 Rabbit Hole

2022-07-13 14:38:15

Crypto industry participation in ISO20022 standards. How the new standards in financial messaging can help prevent fraud and scams

If you spend enough time on the darker corners of Linkedin, (I know, I have!) You might have come across desperate sounding posts proclaiming cryptic messages like, “I want to receive the swift mt103 two-way cash backed!” and, “Looking for MT199 Receiver 500M Euro!” or even, “Need Sender of MT103-202!”. One day, curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to try to figure out what these shady looking individuals were talking about. What I discovered might interest, or shock you… 

…They’re all scammers. I’ll save you the trouble of finding out for yourself. But how does this scheme work? And what is “MT103, MT199, etc.”?  Well, they are SWIFT banking codes. An MT103 is a standardized SWIFT payment message used specifically for cross border/international wire transfers. Banks have been using SWIFT since the 70’s for payments and they include all payment details such as date, amount, currency, sender and recipient.


Swift message format.

SWIFT isn’t Very Swift

SWIFT is far from universally adopted in banking, different banks in different countries format transactions in different ways, names of receivers, street addresses, and even the decimal units of currency, are formatted and stored in different ways by different banks in different countries. That’s why, when making an international wire transfer, banks use several intermediary banks who “Translate” the transaction instructions into a syntax and format that the receiving bank can understand.

Legitimate business proposal

That’s where our enterprising friends over on Linkedin come in. They are attempting to con unsuspecting people using glitches -Or perceived glitches- in this aging system, they attempt to convince their victim that, due to a clerical error, there really is $800 million hanging in limbo, just waiting for the right “receiver” to claim from the SWIFT network!  At this point, you might be asking, ‘What does all this have to do with my Ethereums?” Hold on, I’m getting there, slowly.

Standards Procedure

Published initially in 2004, ISO 20022 is an open, international standard that defines financial messaging syntax and format. It’s an attempt, by the financial industry as a whole, to standardize inter-institutional financial messages. ISO20022 messages are based on an XML file format that uses meta tags to label information in a syntactical and logical order.

SWIFT vs ISO20022

Gone will be the days, where the Trade and Development Bank of Mongolia formats a recipient's surname or street address, differently from how it’s done by Banco Pichincha, Ecuador. This aims to allow direct bank-to-bank transfer of financial messages without the need for time-wasting intermediaries that carry out the expensive process of reformatting payment instructions.

Financial institutions the world over are, right now, carrying out the gargantuan task of implementing ISO20022 in their internal systems, and it’s slow going, only a few banks are expected to be able to comply with the new standards within the timeframe.

Blockchain Standards Bandwagon

A number of blockchain projects, Ripple, Algorand, IOTA and others, have taken notice of these developments and have even joined the ISO20022 standards board to help work out a unified language for blockchain transactions. There’s been a lot of, let’s just say, less-than-sensible speculation about their motives, but one thing is apparent, these projects hope to gain an advantage over their competitors by standardizing their networks, early on, with the nascent universal interbank financial message system. 

Standardizing your Ethereums

For us at FAMEEX, operating a crypto exchange business, our operations overlap with areas covered by ISO20022 on a daily basis, particularly when it comes to fiat transfers and KYC. Both of our third-party KYC providers, and Jumio, format and require customer information in an ISO20022 compatible format. While one of our fiat onramps, Coinify, is also fully ISO20022 compliant.

When selecting third-party financial partners it was a major consideration for us to choose partners that are compliant with global financial standards so that we can provide a glitch free customer experience from start to finish. In the future, we plan to offer a credit/debit card facility, so observing and updating internal processes to comply with the latest financial standards is a top priority.

Trends indicate that the crypto industry is integrating ever more closely with the existing financial system, and that large institutions are increasingly adopting blockchains and tooling developed by open source crypto developers. The adoption of open standards like ISO20022 will grease the wheels of the global financial system and cut down on fraud and abuse. Much to the detriment of our likely lads over on Linkedin! 

The opinions expressed in the article are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the opinion of FAMEEX. Do you think The author should be fired? Please send your request to

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