Swift, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Telecommunication, is perhaps best known for its role as the provider of the secure messagingsystem for the world's banks. It serves more than 6,000 financial institutions from its three hubs - Hong Kong, the Netherlands and the United States - and accounts for more than 90 per cent of banking messages sent, representing transactions worth more than US$2 trillion every year. Swift is far from an exclusively banking system, however. For the last two decades, the company has been moving aggressively to capture new markets. Steve Farrage, regional manager, securities markets, for Swift, said much of the impetus for this expansion drive came from the desire to attain straight-through processing, or STP, in financial transactions. 'The front end of the trading cycle - that's where STP should start,' he said. 'More and more emphasis is on the trade initiation side.' STP is where a financial transaction is conducted in one, continuous process, from the moment of initiation to settlement. Mr Farrage said that in a world where some fund managers were still using faxes and telexes to communicate with financial intermediaries, the margin for human error was significant. He said there was a risk of inputting errors at both ends of the line, a risk that would be eliminated if a seamless electronic system were to be used. Judging by Swift's growth figures, it would appear fund managers are increasingly coming to agree. Its securities traffic has grown strongly in the last five years, from about 10 million messages a year in 1993 to about 150 million last year. The company now controls about 38 per cent of the messages in the securities market - and is looking at 35-40 per cent growth this year. Last year in Asia, despite the mayhem that was afflicting markets in the region, Swift managed to increase traffic across its system by 5 per cent. As the company's hold on the market grows, it increasingly plays an important role in the development of global standards. These provide the basis for a commonly accepted language and format for transmission. Swift developed the ISO 15022 standard message - which has been widely adopted. The group already controls the banking system and is moving rapidly to dominate other areas of financialtransaction. Mr Farrage said that, in spite of the company's dominance, there was little danger of it becoming an anti-competitive monopoly. 'The standard is open to all, there is not a competitive edge on the standard,' he said, adding that, in any event, Swift was a co-operative, owned by its members. The next generation of Swift services will be based on Internet technology - but will continue to rely on the company's own resources.