Ross McGill

October 28, 2015|4 Minutes

Whats in a SIBOS Name?

Wikipedia, that font of all curated knowledge, cites the meaning of the SIBOS acronym as the ‘Swift International Banking Operations Seminar’. That may have been the reality at the first SIBOS back in 1978 in Brussels, but is it still the right term for last week’s gathering, which hosted 8,029 delegates – the second largest number of SIBOS delegates ever?

Well, what would be the alternatives? Conference, Convention and Symposium are obvious candidates. In today’s world each of these terms tends to be used essentially interchangeably. But are they really? What is SIBOS really?

Seminar, in its most relevant meaning to this context, means a ‘meeting on a specialised subject’. My issue with this term is that, while it may have been an accurate description in 1978, I don’t think this holds true today. SWIFT, the organiser, has two roles (messaging system and ISO standards police), so even the organiser is not representing ‘a’ specialised subject. The delegates also do not now turn up to discuss a single issue, they discuss many issues, and not all technical and not necessarily related to SWIFT. People turn up to do business, discuss strategy and collaborate. To that extent SIBOS has outgrown even this rather narrow definition.

Conference on the other hand is defined as a ‘meeting for serious discussion’ or a ‘meeting of representatives of an organisation’. Now, this definition has no relationship to scale. It doesn’t matter how many people turn up. The differentiator appears to be ‘serious’. I guess that means you can’t have a conference for comedians. It is certainly true that the delegates at SIBOS generally do represent their organisations. My problem with this definition, and a critique of SIBOS, is that I don’t think it embodies ‘conferring’. I see lots of speeches (one way communication) and lots of panels (lots of pre-written opinions pushed to the audience). The proportion of main sessions at SIBOS where people really confer, is very small.

Convention is cited as meaning a ‘gathering of people who have a common interest’. This would seem to cover pretty much everything that happens at SIBOS today (with one exception that I will discuss next). So, I’d say that convention is a better descriptor of what SIBOS is and does. SWIFT’s own SIBOS website describes it as a ‘conference, exhibition and networking’ event. It does not describe it as a seminar. Indeed it would be a case of redundant acronym syndrome (RAS) to say SIBOS followed by any descriptor. The nature of the event is embedded in the final letter of the acronym.

Last but not least, I’ve also heard people refer to the last letter of SIBOS as meaning a symposium. A symposium is defined as a ‘formal meeting for discussion of a subject’. Interestingly, one of the alternate meanings for symposium is ‘drinking party’ in ancient Greek. So, in some respects, symposium may be a better overall definition than seminar, given the number of cocktail receptions and parties that surround SIBOS.

Of course, the reality in marketing terms is that SIBOS is no longer actually an acronym, it’s a brand. As such, the meaning of each of the letters is no longer relevant. The event has a life of its own, separate from the original or even the current dictionary defined terms. That said, as you might gather, I’m a bit of a nerd on these things. I like to be accurate, and its also a bit of fun to challenge the given wisdom. Hope to see you in Geneva at the next… SIBOS.

Image Credit: Nadine Dereza

Ross McGill

Ross is the founder and chairman of TConsult. He has spent over 26 years working in the withholding tax landscape with companies developing tax reclaim software and operating outsource tax reclamation services.

Ross not only sees the big picture but is also incredibly detail oriented. He can make even the most complex issues simple to understand. He has authored 10 books (including two second editions) on various aspects of tax, technology, and regulation in financial services, making him one of the leading authorities in the world of tax.