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The Swiss Interbank Clearing (SIC) system

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Swiss Interbank Clearing (SIC) is Switzerland’s interbank clearing system. Since its launch on 10 June 1987, it has been operated by SIX Interbank Clearing Ltd on behalf of the Swiss National Bank (SNB). The participants eligible to use SIC primarily include Swiss banks and PostFinance as well as other financial market participants such as securities dealers, insurance companies and cash-handling companies based in Switzerland or the Principality of Liechtenstein. Foreign banks can take part if they meet a number of additional conditions. As well as large-value transactions, the SIC system also processes retail transfers connected with services provided by financial market participants (bank transfers, card payments, automatic debits, etc.). Since its launch, the SIC system has experienced continuous growth, in terms of both the number of transactions processed and the volume settled (cf. SNB data portal (data.snb.ch) under the path Data>Tables>Financial Market>Payment transactions).

Organisation

The SNB acts as system manager for the Swiss Interbank Clearing system but does not operate the system itself. Since the launch of the SIC system in 1987, SIX Interbank Clearing Ltd (www.six-interbank-clearing.com), a subsidiary of SIX, has been responsible for operating it on behalf of the SNB.

The main tasks undertaken by the SNB as system manager are determining the admission criteria and conditions of participation, administering the accounts, issuing settlement rules, controlling the daily schedule, providing liquidity for the settlement of payments and organising crisis management. SIX Interbank Clearing Ltd undertakes operational tasks such as the technical monitoring of day-to-day operations, developing and maintaining software, data management, and developing and supervising the administrative rules of conduct.

The cooperation between the SNB and SIX Interbank Clearing Ltd in the operation, maintenance and further development of the SIC system is contractually governed by the SIC Agreement. The SNB also has a seat on the Board of Directors of SIX Interbank Clearing Ltd.

Who’s who in the SIC system?

Settlement

For the participants, sight deposits at the SNB serve as liquidity for the settlement of payments in the SIC system. In the current terminology, SIC is a real-time gross system. This type of payment system is also known as a real-time gross settlement (RTGS) system. Such systems settle each payment individually using central bank money, provided adequate cover is available. The payment is irrevocable and final.

In addition to a sight deposit account, the SNB maintains a settlement account for each SIC participant to enable them to participate in the SIC system. Legally, the two accounts represent a single account. The sight deposit account is used to settle cash drawings and transactions in direct payments business with the National Bank and is therefore managed on the SNB’s accounting system, whereas SIC transactions pass through the settlement accounts on the settlement system of SIX Interbank Clearing Ltd. During the day, most liquidity remains in the settlement accounts; during the SIC end-of-day settlement process it is transferred to the sight deposit account at the SNB, booked and transferred back to the individual settlement accounts in the SIC system for the new value date.

The SIC system only processes payments on condition that execution of the instruction does not give rise to a negative balance on the account. If this condition is not met, the system places the payment in a queue. It executes payments automatically as soon as incoming payments or a transfer from the sight deposit account has replenished the SIC settlement account with sufficient funds again. Payments in the queue are processed in accordance with the ‘first in first out’ (FIFO) principle. The sender bank can, however, influence the settlement sequence by assigning a priority category to a payment order. Within any priority category the FIFO principle then governs the processing sequence again.

Settlement mechanism

Operation

The SIC system offers participants a round-the-clock service on all bank working days, during which time payment orders can be submitted and settled for around 23 hours. In order to achieve the smoothest possible settlement process in the SIC system, the SNB provides interest-free intra-day liquidity for the participants by means of repos (cf. Instruction sheet on the intraday facility).

The value date in the SIC system starts at approximately 5 pm and ends at 4.15 pm on the following bank working day. A SIC clearing day is thus not the same as a calendar day. Between 5 pm on the previous day and 3 pm on the current value date, payment orders can be processed without restriction. Customer payment orders submitted by clearing stop 1 (3 pm) are processed by the end of the day with the value date “today”. Between clearing stop 1 and clearing stop 2 (4 pm), only equalisation payments between participants with the same value date are settled; customer payments are given the value date of the next bank working day.

After clearing stop 2, participants whose payments could not be executed by that time for lack of cover can obtain the necessary liquidity from the SNB through the liquidity-shortage financing facility up to 4.15 pm (clearing stop 3). Recourse to the liquidity-shortage financing facility, which in effect consists of special-rate repos, requires a corresponding contractual agreement with the SNB and the depositing of collateral eligible for repos (cf. Instruction sheet on the liquidity-shortage financing facility and Instruction sheet on collateral eligible for SNB repos).

At 4.15 pm (clearing stop 3) the SNB commences the end-of-day processing procedure. All pending payments with value date “today” that may still be in the queue are deleted from the SIC system and the daily closing lists for all settlement accounts are submitted to the SNB. The latter books the SIC turnover of the participants from the lists to the relevant sight deposit accounts and performs various reconciliation tasks. If the SIC turnover amounts can be accurately reconciled with the SNB bookings, the SNB launches the start-of-day processing procedure, usually just before 5 pm. It subsequently transfers the participants’ sight deposits back to the corresponding SIC settlement accounts. Thus a new SIC day begins.

A sample SIC settlement day (simplified diagram)