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One Week Before Showtime, SWIFT Pulls the Plug On Sibos

One week before the largest conference in banking and back-office technology was to begin, SWIFT, citing security concerns, says no go.

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) has cancelled its annual conference (Sibos), planned for Singapore, writing "current global security concerns" left it with "no choice."

The announcement, which came just one week before financial executives and IT decision makers were to descend on the Far Eastern country, came as a shock to many in the industry, who consider Sibos their best chance for reaching a mass audience with new products and services.

SWIFT boasts of the conference on its website (www.swift.com), "Sibos is widely considered the world's premier financial services event, attracting the industry's leading figures and firms. More than just a conference and exhibition, it is the SWIFT world forum for advancing critical dialogue on the issues we face as an industry."

Larry Tabb, vice president of the Securities and Investments group with TowerGroup, says that Sibos is certainly an important event in the financial community, both as an opportunity for vendors to showcase their wares and for IT heads to get in touch with industry trends.

"Sibos is really the major show that focuses on the back-office aspects of our industry, a chance for the vendors to go out and show their new software, a meeting place for people to network and also an extensive conference where different industry participants talk about the major issues they are facing," he says.

By not going forward with the event, Amery Thomas, CEO of STP-solution provider Heliograph, says, SWIFT is sending the wrong message to the financial-services community. "I think canceling Sibos sends out a big message to everybody," he says. "Is business canceled for the foreseeable future? I think it's sending out the wrong message when the market really needs to pick itself up and get on with business as usual."

Thomas says he is specifically worried that without the conference, firms won't get critical updates on important initiatives, such as SWIFT's migration from ISO 7775 messages to the new 15022 format. Without discussion of such issues, he says, some firms might not be ready for the November 2002 conversion. "I still think there is a big market education that must take place with this."

Tabb says that anger at the cancellation must be seen in light of the money firms invest in having a presence at the international conference. "We've talked to firms that say they have lost half-a-million dollars because of all the money they've spent in planning," he says. Though expenses like conference registration may be recoupable, money spent on marketing materials and booth construction are, most likely, not. Tabb adds that in addition to the money lost, firms planning on Sibos exposure will incur the expense of traveling to clients that would have traveled to them in Singapore.

"We've gone as far as having all the preparations made and then to cancel it at the last minute doesn't do anybody any favors," adds Thomas. "To reverse the decision (to hold the show) at this point is ludicrous."

Calls to SWIFT for additional comment were not returned.

While agreeing on the importance of making a splash at Sibos, Jenny Swift, with public relations firm Rivercalm Limited, who was to represent a number of clients at the show, says she understands the decision not to gather together the world's top financial executives in the present political environment. "Can you imagine if there was a disaster at an event like Sibos with all those bankers and vendors in one place?" she asks. "That could really impact the financial markets."

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