BOSTON (06/05/2000) - The problem with moving money around in Canada six years ago was that it took a while to determine whether a check was good. The fastest method, the Interbank International Payments System, took an entire day. During that day, anything could happen - the person who sent the money could withdraw all his funds or go bankrupt, or the bank itself could go under.
As a result, those on the receiving end had to either trust the sender and his bank or wait before doing anything with the money. In a worst-case scenario, a bad money transfer for a large amount could cause a domino effect across the banking system, as company after company and bank after bank drew on nonexistent funds to make payments, transfers and withdrawals.
To solve that problem, the Canadian Payments Association (CPA) in Ottawa and its member banks decided to create a system for guaranteeing money transfers.
Called the Large Value Transfer System (LVTS), the system was launched in February 1999.
The guarantee works in two ways, according to CPA general manager Bob Hammond.
First, participating banks put some money on deposit at the Bank of Canada, which acts as a central clearinghouse. There must be enough money to ensure that all transfers out of the bank's accounts - minus the amount of transfers to the bank - are guaranteed. Second, each member bank pledges a certain amount of money into a kind of insurance account or short-term loan system.
Accounts are still settled at the end of the day, however, and Hammond says there are no immediate plans for real-time settlement.
At first, Hammond says, he expected that the LVTS - which is more expensive than writing an ordinary check - would be used for transfers of $50,000 or more. "But we're finding that 50% of payments are for less than $50,000," he says.
Today, reflecting the value the LVTS provides banks and businesses, some $100 billion goes through the system each day, Hammond says, compared with a mere $20 billion through the old nonsecured network, the Automated Clearing Settlement System.
Only 15 of the largest banks in Canada belong to the LVTS, Hammond says, but they in turn offer access to the system to smaller banks. Bank of America Corp. in Charlotte, North Carolina, was one of the first to join and uses LVTS to offer its own branches worldwide, as well as other banks, access to Canada's financial system.
"It is an extremely efficient, fast and sound way for us to offer our clients finality of payments," says Susan Roberts, vice president of Bank of America's Canadian branch operations. She says the system was one of the top five worldwide, and it was installed at just the right time.
"It allowed us the time to get ready internally for it to come," Roberts says.
Members have to invest in back-office computer equipment and dedicated terminals, Hammond notes.
The limited access and dedicated lines help make the entire system more secure, he added. "We have the latest security arrangements," he says.
When LVTS was launched last year, it brought Canada in line with other industrialized nations, many of which, including the U.S., have systems that provide certainty of settlement and finality of payment, Hammond says.
"This is extremely important in making the important and time-sensitive payments that are involved in major business transactions and international trade," he says.