The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) has issued a mandatory software test for its 6,000 members to determine whether their systems are ready for the year 2000.
The group, however, has no mechanism in place to enforce the use of the test, a spokesman for the organisation admits. SWIFT provides a secure messaging system and interface software to financial organisations in 174 countries.
But it is in the interest of SWIFT's members -- banks, stock brokerages, investment management firms, stock exchanges and clearinghouses -- to use the test to verify their preparedness for the year 2000 and to adapt their information systems to meet the challenge.
The year 2000 is expected to pose problems for older computer systems that read only two digits to represent the year, meaning that 2000 could be interpreted as 1900. The misinterpretation may result in errors ranging from the inconsequential to the catastrophic, according to industry observers.
"We are providing a tool, but we cannot police its use, because we are just a link in an end-to-end secure messaging system," the spokesman said. "We guarantee that our system is 2000-compatible, and the test we provide verifies whether at each end of a transmission, the customer can process a year 2000 message."
The organisation has given its members until July 1999 to report whether they have completed the test and what the outcome is, he said. If problems are identified at that time, SWIFT's board of directors will relay that information to the appropriate national authority, the spokesman said.
Although the test represents an important step toward year 2000 readiness, "it does not certify that customers will be fully compliant" with the changes necessary to avoid problems, according to a statement by the organisation.
SWIFT's global network carried more than 800 million messages in 1997, of which two-thirds were payment messages. The Belgium-based cooperative estimates that daily payment messages alone are valued at roughly US$2 trillion.
"If a member's system is not compatible with 2000, it will not mess up our network," the spokesman explained. It will just mean that the message cannot be processed at either the transmitting or receiving end, he said.