SEMINAR: Queen's University Belfast Centre for Economic History Seminar Series

Queen's University Belfast, Centre for Economic History Seminar Series

​Date: 4 November 2022, 13:00-14:30
Speaker: Catherine Schenk (University of Oxford)
Title: 'Building the plumbing of global commerce: public and private interests in the cross-border payments system in the late 20th century'
Location: Lecture theatre


The global payments system is the fundamental plumbing of globalisation, allowing the day-to-day settlement of funds across borders. The ability to make rapid payments across borders is a public good that is often provided through the private sector, but the framework also poses systemic risks that may require public sector support. For example, the density and range of the dominant private payments messaging service, SWIFT, has been contracting since the global financial crisis, which may divert payments into less stable platforms. Despite the transformation of the global financial system and technological revolution, the global payments system continues to rely on structures designed in the 19th century; through banks connected bilaterally through correspondent banking relationships. Drawing on archival evidence, this paper explores how private sector control of the system came to dominate on the brink of the most recent globalisation in the 1970s. We focus on the origins of two institutions that are still fundamental to the current system: Clearing House International Payments System (CHIPS) in the USA and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).