FOR the global custodian, keeping track of billions of dollars worth of transactions a day is an administrative nightmare. Add to that the increasing demands from institutional clients for real-time access to data on their investments and it is easy to see the dependence of the industry on a sophisticated, integrated information technology network. The key to the successful growth of the financial services industry, and especially so for custodians, is the common platform provided by one information technology provider. Enter Swift, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, a bank-owned co-operative that services more than 5,400 financial institutions in 139 countries. In 1995, Swift carried 600 million messages, while the average daily value of payment messages is estimated at more than US$2 trillion. For global custodians, the system has become an industry-wide standard. Gary Wing, business manager for the Royal Bank of Canada Global Securities Services, said the system had to achieve the goals of standardisation as the industry moved to meet its aim of straight-through processing. 'The aim is to get a message from the investment manager to the custodian, to the sub-custodian, to the depositary and back with no human contact,' he said. In order to achieve this, the first step was to find a common format for communication, combined with a high degree of security. But clients now want more from custodians than just tracking and safeguarding assets, there is also increasing demand for customised reports. To stay ahead of the field, custodians must invest heavily in upgrading information technology infrastructure. Hongkong Bank head of securities services Jeremy Davies said the upgrading of technology 'is a bit like painting the Forth Bridge'. Once you reach the end, you have to turn back and start again. K. K. Tse, managing director of State Street Global Investor Services, said the bank invested more than US$100 million every year upgrading its systems. Eleni Wang, senior managing director overseas for Bankers Trust, said the move towards paperless markets and the worldwide trend towards globalisation added to the pressure.