Firms could save time and money as banks move to adopt a standardised format for communicating with businesses' accounting software. XML is a widely used method for labelling data so it can be easily recognised by different software programs. HSBC has implemented XML file exchanges for financial data in what it says is a first for New Zealand. Spokeswoman Cath Henry says some clients are now using the format, which lets them download statements into their systems and submit payment instructions to the bank. Banks use a range of messaging formats and firms sometimes have to tweak their systems to communicate easily with those used by banks, she says. "This single universal standard is saving corporates a lot of money and makes life easier for them in terms of not having to use the alternative proprietary formats with each of their banking relationships." BNZ spokeswoman Erica Lloyd says it is about to launch a "processing channel" for business clients that will let them use XML to access account information and facilitate payments. ASB chief operations officer Russell Jones says it tailors XML file format support for business customers, "depending on their business needs and commercial constraints". Computer Society chief executive Paul Matthews says most data transfers between computer programs today are done using an XML format. The move by banks to pick up the format will not revolutionise the way businesses interact with banks, but will make it easier for software developers building accounting packages, he says. "It is quite important from a software perspective because in the current situation banks sometimes do use different formats. For example, the Quicken Interchange Format is the most common one, but the problem with that is some banks use four digits for the year, others use two and some banks have the month and the date around in the American style." Most banks support four or five different formats for exchanging data, and most of the main business software programs should support XML or be close to doing so, he says. Deloitte partner Faris Azimullah says banks will be able to easily assess their business activities, such as credit lending and exposure, if they know exactly what data firms have supplied them with. Businesses will benefit more from the move because they will no longer have to clarify with banks what data they have sent through. "Once you've cracked the nut in terms of what the bank wants and established and tagged that data ... you can share that information by pressing a button."