Swiss Instant Payment: How and When Will Payments Work “Instantly”?

Swiss Instant Payment: How and When Will Payments Work “Instantly”?

Even if it might feel different for consumers, instant payment has yet to be introduced in Switzerland. Seen, purchased, paid for – read on to find out when payments in Switzerland will be as simultaneous as this triad of consumerism already sounds today.

Thanks to global e-commerce, consumption takes place around the clock – and with smartphones, from anywhere. The term “business hours” has no meaning in the digital space: It’s shopping and streaming, all nonstop, and all instant.

When Does My Payment Actually Get to the Recipient?

Of course, in return we have to pay for the products and services purchased. But how quickly does this payment actually take place? Mentally, we immediately “deduct” the money spent. From our perspective, the money now belongs to the payment recipient. In reality, in Switzerland, there’s a delay before the amount owed arrives in the recipient’s account. That wait can be up to a few hours after the purchase, a day, or even longer, depending on whether I felt like shopping during the day, at night, during the week, on the weekend, on a workday, or on a public holiday.

Does TWINT Provide Instant Payment?

This delay doesn’t just happen with e-commerce, but also at the store checkout, and with credit transfers via e-banking. Even with the Swiss mobile payment solution TWINT, where I can send money – up to a defined limit – directly to other users, the immediacy is only simulated. The money doesn’t arrive at the recipient’s bank in real time. The bank goes into advance payment, so to speak, where the amount in question is shown as a credit in the customer account ahead of time.

In contrast to this, in the EU, for example, true real-time credit transfers are already a reality. The SEPA Instant Credit Transfer scheme has been the basis for instant payment in euro since 2017.

What Is Instant Payment?

Instant payments are processed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The amount owed arrives in the payment recipient’s account in real time, and is available immediately. In the case of instant payment, “real time” means a few seconds. In Switzerland, from 2024, instant payments will be processed via the Swiss Interbank Clearing (SIC) payment system operated by SIX on behalf of the Swiss National Bank. SIC itself processes the transaction in just 0.2 seconds – that’s about as real time as it gets.

SIX to Offer Instant Payment from 2024

The payment process currently in place in Switzerland is secure, efficient, and – as described above – generally goes unnoticed by consumers and operates to their full satisfaction. The connection between the bank accounts is established by the Swiss Interbank Clearing (SIC) payment system operated by SIX on behalf of the Swiss National Bank. From a technical perspective, SIC has been able to process payments in real time for decades. But in order for instant payment to function across the entire payments chain, adjustments are also necessary in the operation and organization of the interfaces between the banks and SIX.  

With the release of the fifth generation of SIC at the end of 2023, SIX is laying the foundation for instant payment analogous to the European SEPA Instant Credit Transfer standard. By August 2024, the biggest of the Swiss banks will have to be capable of processing instant payments, with the remaining banks following in 2026.

The Advantages of Instant Payment

When banks begin offering instant payment, customers will notice the following advantages:

  • Business hours, weekends, and holidays will no longer affect the processing time for a payment.
  • Payers will immediately receive a payment confirmation.
  • The money owed to payment recipients will be available immediately.
  • Neither of the two sides will be exposed to credit risk.
  • Consumers will be able to use services (e.g., ad hoc insurance) immediately because payment is received by the service provider instantly.
  • Compared to TWINT, it will be possible to make direct credit transfers in higher amounts.
  • New services and automation will be possible, for example in connection with Request to Pay, an electronic request for payment by the service provider or retailer.

Will Instant Payment Become the Standard?

Even after the technical implementation of instant payment in Switzerland, it will probably take some time for it to become the standard. In the EU, which already has five years’ experience with SEPA Instant Credit Transfer, the share of real time transfers was at 10% at the end of 2021. However, the banks are under no obligation to implement instant payment.

Having the infrastructure is one thing. The readiness to use it is another. In this regard, the future success of instant payment depends on the ability of the consumer goods and services sectors to innovate. Instant payment involves much more than payments via mobile and e-banking. Just think of the Internet of Things — when your fridge won’t just order milk when you’re running low, but also pay for it instantly.