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Opinion
Leonid Bershidsky

Kicking Russia Out of Swift Payment System Could Backfire

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication is vulnerable to the kind of disruption that sanctions could accelerate.

Eventually, the world moved on from Pac-Man. 

Eventually, the world moved on from Pac-Man. 

Photographer: Adam Berry/Getty Images Europe

One of the biggest miracles of today’s software-eaten world is that technological disruption has spared the cross-border money transfer system, with the Brussels-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift, at its core.

Swift is a system in which cross-border transactions often involve several intermediaries, and that means costs add up — to $25-35 per transaction, according to a 2018 report by Swift and management consultants McKinsey & Co. It’s also a system that barely works for smaller and poorer countries. And yet it’s still so dominant that, for example, the threat that Russia could be cut off from Swift, the way Iran has been, is a scary prospect for many Russians and the Kremlin alike.