Payment and settlement

The Bank of England acts as a settlement agent to enable financial institutions to make payments to each other. The Bank also operates CHAPS - the UK's high value payment system.

Overview

Payments are essential to the UK’s economy. Most payments are made through payment systems. We have been acting as a settlement agent for payment systems since the nineteenth century. We are currently in the definition phase of a renewal programme to deliver the next generation of our settlement service, which supports our role as settlement agent.

Find out more about what payment systems are and how they work:

Payment Systems Regulator

What is a payment system?

Payment systems are a set of common rules and procedures, which support the transfer of funds between people, businesses and financial institutions. Most payment systems are managed by operators, and supported by one or more infrastructure providers of hardware, software, and communication networks. Some financial institutions have direct access to each payment system and provide payment services to their customers.

Why is a settlement agent necessary?

Not all accounts are held at the same payment service provider, so when a customer makes a payment to a business that has an account with a different provider, the customer’s provider owes the business’s provider the value of the payment. This creates a level of risk, so a payment system requires an intermediary, known as a settlement agent, to use for the final settlement of funds between providers. 

Banks and other institutions can hold accounts with us, which are used to settle money moved between them. We provide these accounts to support our mission of maintaining monetary and financial stability. There is a financial stability advantage for a settlement agent being a central bank like the Bank of England. As we are financially supported by the Government, this removes the risk of account holders losing money held in, or moved between, accounts held with us.

The real-time gross settlement service

We operate the real-time gross settlement (RTGS) service, infrastructure that holds accounts for banks, building societies and other institutions. The balances in these accounts can be used to move money in real time between these account holders. This delivers final and risk-free settlement.

PDFThe Bank's RTGS infrastructure

Governance of RTGS and CHAPS

We have dedicated governance arrangements for the RTGS infrastructure and CHAPS payment system.

The RTGS/CHAPS Board (the Board) provides strategic leadership for the RTGS infrastructure and CHAPS payment system, including the RTGS renewal programme. The Board operates within the Bank’s wider governance structure, reporting to the Governor and Court.

The Board supports the delivery of the Bank’s mission to promote the good of the people of the United Kingdom by maintaining monetary and financial stability. It also seeks to promote efficiency, innovation and competition in sterling payments, wherever that can be safely done without impairing stability.

As operator of a systemically important payment system, the Bank is accountable for the end-to-end risk management of the CHAPS payment system. The Board supports this through the oversight of all risks that could impact the resilience of the payment system. 

For both RTGS and CHAPS, the Board is responsible for:

  • setting strategic aims
  • setting risk tolerance
  • reviewing the risk management frameworks and overseeing the risk profiles and risk mitigation
  • reviewing the audit programme
  • reviewing business continuity and crisis management

The Board meets six times a year. Its membership includes four independent, external appointees, in order to provide additional challenge, broader experience and insight into the Board’s decision-making. 

The members are:

  • Chair: Dave Ramsden, Deputy Governor for Markets and Banking, and Senior Manager responsible for the implementation of strategic changes and the day-to-day operation of the RTGS and CHAPS Services under our internal application of the Senior Managers Regime
  • Sandra ‘Sandy’ Boss (independent member)
  • Kevin Brown (independent member)
  • Lazaro Campos (independent member)
  • Victoria Cleland, Executive Director for Banking, Payments and Financial Resilience
  • Rob Elsey, Executive Director for Technology
  • Charlotte Gerken, Director for Cross-cutting and Insurance Policy
  • Noel Harwerth (independent member)
  • Andrew Hauser, Executive Director for Markets
  • Michael Jones, Head of Market Services (the area that operates RTGS and CHAPS)

PDFAdditional Board member biographies

The Board has delegated the monitoring of the CHAPS and RTGS risk management framework, risk tolerance and risk profiles to the RTGS/CHAPS Board Risk Committee. This committee meets six times a year and is comprised of five board members: Sandra ‘Sandy’ Boss (Chair), Michael Jones, Rob Elsey, Charlotte Gerken, and Noel Harwerth.

The Board takes appropriate input from RTGS and CHAPS users, including through the Strategic Advisory Forum and Service User Group. 

The career experience of the independent members can raise the possibility that individuals may have an interest which could give rise to a potential conflict. The Board has robust procedures in place to manage such conflicts to ensure the integrity and impartiality of the Board’s decision-making.

PDFInternal application to the Senior Managers Regime

  • RTGS and CHAPS risk assessment

    In October 2017, we published our second self-assessment of the real-time gross settlement (RTGS) service against the CPMI-IOSCO Principles for Financial Market Infrastructures, with point of assessment 30 June 2017. These are internationally agreed standards considered essential to strengthening and preserving financial stability. 

    While the RTGS service is not a payment system or a financial market infrastructure, we have undertaken the assessment mostly against the principles that apply to payment systems. We have also considered the CPMI-IOSCO guidance on how the principles apply to financial market infrastructures operated by central banks.

    This year we judged that of the sixteen principles which apply to RTGS, we ‘observe’ fourteen and ‘broadly observe’ the other two (governance, and risk management). While the ratings are the same as the 2016 self-assessment, there has been considerable progress made across both governance and risk management between the two self-assessments. 

    The self-assessment is completed in our role as operator of the RTGS service and not in our capacity as supervisor of financial market infrastructures or banks. We plan to update broadly annually.

    CHAPS Co, the previous operator of the CHAPS system, also completed self-assessments against the PFMIs.

  • Resilience of the RTGS service

    The RTGS service needs to be extremely operationally reliable to support final settlement between accounts that providers hold with us. The service is managed within a clear governance framework. This covers strategy, delivery and risk management.

    Changes to the RTGS service are carefully considered and tested, because of the potential for impact on our mission of maintaining monetary and financial stability. We engage on potential changes with account holders and the operators of the payment systems that settle in RTGS.

    The RTGS service operates on fault-tolerant computer hardware which is replicated on a second site. The business operation is conducted on a split site basis. We have the option of using a third site and alternative technology in the form of SWIFT’s ‘Market Infrastructure Resiliency Service’.

    PDFEnhancing the resilience of the Bank's RTGS infrastructure

Settlement services

We currently support four settlement models: real-time gross settlement, delivery versus payment (DvP), and prefunded and unfunded models for deferred net settlement.

We provide settlement services for the CHAPS payment system, the payment system embedded within the CREST securities settlement system and a number of retail payment systems that settle on a net basis. Each system determines its own access criteria as well as the number and duration of any settlement cycles.

Final sterling settlement for CLS, a foreign exchange settlement system that eliminates settlement risk in participating currencies, is carried out through CLS’s direct participation in CHAPS.

Payments under our Note Circulation Scheme (NCS) are also settled in our RTGS service. NCS allows its members – wholesale cash operators – to hold notes in custody for us within their network of cash centres.

Real-time gross settlement

This model is currently only used by CHAPS. 

CHAPS is a sterling same-day system that is used to settle high-value wholesale payments as well as time-critical, lower-value payments like buying or paying a deposit on a property. Responsibility for the CHAPS system transferred to the Bank of England in November 2017. Read more about this in our CHAPS section and in the blueprint for a new RTGS service.

Direct participants in CHAPS include the traditional high-street banks and a number of international and custody banks. Many more financial institutions access the system indirectly and make their payments via direct participants. This is known as agency or correspondent banking.

Payment obligations between settlement participants are settled individually on a gross basis in RTGS throughout the business day.

Settlement risk is eliminated, at the cost of an increased need for liquidity, making this model best suited to a high-value payment system with the largest potential systemic risk. We support settlement of CHAPS payments by providing secured intraday liquidity to the direct participants. We also make a liquidity saving tool available to help reduce intraday liquidity needs for CHAPS settlement.

PDFHow has the liquidity saving mechanism reduced banks' intraday liquidity costs in CHAPS?

Delivery versus payment (DvP)

This model is currently only used to support final settlement in CREST. CREST is used to settle transactions for UK securities (gilts, equities and money market instruments). It is operated by EUI.

Sterling settlement in CREST takes place in a series of very high-frequency cycles throughout the day. After each cycle, we are advised of the debits and credits to be made to the CREST settlement banks’ accounts in our RTGS service. We support settlement in CREST by providing intraday liquidity to the CREST settlement banks (a process known as auto-collateralisation). Settlement risk is eliminated as transactions are settled with finality in real time against segregated liquidity.

Deferred net settlement

Accounts in RTGS are used to settle the net obligations arising from customer transactions for the main sterling retail payment systems: Bacs, Cheque & Credit, Faster Payments, LINK and Visa Europe.

Bacs

Bacs processes direct debits (for example utility bills) and direct credits (for example salaries and benefits) across a three-day cycle. Net settlement takes place in the RTGS service once a business day.

Faster Payments Service

The Faster Payments Service provides near real-time payments 24/7. It is used for standing orders, internet and telephone banking payments. Net settlement takes place three times each business day in the RTGS system.

Cheque & Credit Clearing Company

The Cheque & Credit Clearing Company settles cheques and paper credits between financial institutions in the RTGS system on a three-day cycle. A new image-based clearing system launched in October 2017. It is prefunded and settles on a next-day basis once a business day.

LINK

LINK is the UK’s ATM network, which settles in 24-hour cycles. Cycles that take place over weekends and public holidays all settle on a net basis in the RTGS system the following business day.

Visa Europe

Visa Europe is one of the card systems that settles in 24-hour cycles. Cycles that take place over weekends and public holidays all settle on a net basis in the RTGS system the following business day.

  • How does deferred net settlement work?

    Each of these systems settles on a multilateral, deferred net basis. Under the deferred net settlement model, details of customer payments are first exchanged between banks in batches or individually. RTGS does not need to be open for this exchange of customer payments. Some payments are already available to customers 24/7, such as Faster Payments and card payments. Processing customer payments occurs in other infrastructure, outside RTGS.

    In the periods between settlement cycles, potential settlement risk can therefore arise between settlement members. Final settlement of the resulting net movements takes place in the RTGS system once or more each business day, depending on the payment system.

    Prefunded deferred net settlement: Prefunding eliminates settlement risk in systems that use it by capping the maximum net obligations of settlement members in that system. Settlement members must hold funds in a cash collateral account in RTGS equal to that cap. If a settlement member defaults, the cash set aside can be used to complete settlement. This eliminates credit risk between settlement members.

    Deferred net settlement: This is periodic batch settlement between settlement members on a multilateral net basis. A feature of this model is that settlement risk exists in these payment systems, mitigated by arrangements in the individual systems.

Accessing and using reserves and settlement accounts

Banks and other financial institutions can hold accounts in our real-time gross settlement system (RTGS) for holding reserves or settling net obligations from payment systems. Non-bank payment service providers can hold settlement accounts in the RTGS system. Further information is available on direct and indirect access to the CHAPS system


  • Reserves accounts

    Reserves accounts are effectively sterling current accounts for participants in the Sterling Monetary Framework

    Reserves account holders must be banks or building societies that are authorised to take deposits in the UK, investment firms authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority, or central counterparties.
  • Settlement accounts

    Settlement accounts can be used to settle obligations that arise from participating in payments systems in central bank money. Reserves accounts can also be used as settlement accounts.

    To be eligible for a settlement account, a firm must hold a reserves account or be a financial market infrastructure or an e-money or payment institution authorised in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority. They must also meet the criteria for settlement participation in the relevant payment systems.
  • Cash collateral accounts

    We have created special accounts for direct settlement participants to hold funds to cover the maximum possible net debit positions they could reach in certain retail payment systems.

    For institutions that hold a reserves account, these balances form part of their overall reserves balance and are remunerated at the same rate. Cash collateral accounts are also available to non-bank payment service providers.

    If a participant defaults, the cash set aside can be used to complete settlement. This eliminates credit risk between direct participants.

    These accounts are provided to direct settlement participants in Bacs and the Faster Payments Service and, from October 2017, the Image Clearing System for cheques.

Requirements for use of RTGS accounts

Holders of RTGS accounts must enter into Terms and Conditions. Annexes cover particular purposes for which the account is used.

Agreements are also in place with the operators of payment systems that settle in RTGS.

Account holders can use an online system to manage accounts in RTGS and their CHAPS payment queues. A detailed RTGS reference manual is available for RTGS account holders.

OtherRTGS accounts terms and conditions (plus annexes)

RTGS reference manual (password-protected for account holders only)

Fees for RTGS settlement

We charge fees to organisations that hold an account in RTGS used for settlement. These fees are reviewed annually and set in advance for the coming year. We operate on a full cost recovery basis over a defined time frame.

There are two groups of tariffs for RTGS settlement. 

  1. The RTGS tariffs for CHAPS and CREST settlement which take the form of an annual participation fee for each participant (account holder) and a per-item fee reflecting volume settled in RTGS. 
  2. For the retail systems, there is an annual charge per settlement participant. We do not charge a per-item fee. 

Separate, additional, fees are set for CHAPS Direct Participant for CHAPS Scheme activities.

PDFRTGS and CHAPS fees

The retail payment system operators and the operator of CREST set their own, separate, tariffs and fees.

Extended CHAPS and CREST settlement day

On 20 June 2016, the CHAPS and CREST settlement day was extended by an hour and 40 minutes to a new later end-of-day of 6pm. The CHAPS deadline for customer payments changed to 5.40pm, although customer cut-off times set by providers may be earlier. We enabled these changes by extending the operating hours of the RTGS service.

Identified benefits included enhanced risk management for financial market infrastructures, increased flexibility in market participants’ balance sheet management, and greater flexibility for end users. The Bank and the operators of CHAPS and CREST completed a review in late-2017 covering whether the identified benefits have been enabled by providers and adopted by users. The review included engagement with relevant stakeholders and considered whether further actions are required to encourage the realisation of benefits.

Greater flexibility for end-users. CHAPS and CREST service providers have passed on later cut-off times to customers. In summer 2017, an average of 6.1% of CHAPS daily values and 5.3% of volumes settled in the additional 100 minutes. We found that the change in hours enabled more customer CHAPS payments instructed late in the business day to settle on the same day.

Improved risk management. Some CHAPS and CREST service providers thought the extension has enabled improvements to operational stability through reduced time-pressure, providing additional time to manage incidents and calmer end-of-day processing.

Improved balance sheet management. As expected, there have been no significant changes to the timings of sterling money market or foreign exchange flows (and few trades that would need to settle later the same day). Separately, FMI members now have greater flexibility over how they meet their financial commitments to the FMI.

Next steps. The Bank has no current plans for changes to the operating hours of RTGS. In building the next generation of our RTGS service, the Bank will build the technical capability to operate at close to 24 hours during business days for real-time gross settlement and potentially to carry out periodic net settlement of retail systems over the weekend. This will ensure that there is flexibility to change the operating hours in the future in light of user demand. 

This page was last updated 23 November 2018
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