Fedwire is the dominant high-value transfer mechanism in the US. Fedwire is the Federal Reserve’s real-time gross settlement network. It has two variants: funds, for USD transfers, and securities, for transfers of a limited group of securities.
Fedwire is a ~synchronous network; the Federal Reserve — and in particular, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — receives a wire and ~immediately debits the sending financial institution’s account and credits the receiving financial institution’s account.
Traditionally, wires have been labor intensive. There’s an assumption that there’ll be a manual exception process. As such, the messaging format allows a wide range of inputs. For example, a receiving account number isn’t strictly required by the specification.
When a receiving financial institution cannot allocate or otherwise decides to not accept a transfer, it sends a reversal.
A sender can request that a wire is reversed. The receiving financial institution has no obligation to honor the request, however.
Although Fedwire doesn’t support pulling funds, there’s a network-level primitive to request payment. This is called a drawdown request. There’s also a drawdown request payment network primitive which allows a transfer to be correlated with a drawdown request.
Support for drawdown requests is typically limited to corporate accounts and there’s usually setup required by the account holder. Common use-cases are for intra-company money movement or regular automated settlement. Settlement to Visa, for example, can be coordinated by drawdown request.
Fedwire supports a messaging network. It’s typically used for wire department to wire department communication. Because wire processing can still be very manual, the messaging network is often used to request additional information.
The Fedwire schedule is here:
Notably, although Fedwire closes at 7pm ET, it re-opens at 9pm ET.
In practice, Fedwire can extend the operating hours. This typically happens in times of stress.
Fedwire uses a proprietary message format that’s comprised of tags. In 2024, Fedwire intends to move to ISO 20022.
Fedwire uses an IBM queuing product, MQ.
Operating a wire integration
One notable detail about wire operations is how manual they are at many institutions. Many financial institutions assume that wires will have manual intervention and therefore aren’t as strict as they might be with details like account numbers.
Fedwire can be used for settling USD legs of non-US transfers. Fedwire therefore supports passing through a SWIFT Business Identifier Code (BIC).