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In banking and finance, clearing denotes all activities from the time a commitment is made for a transaction until it is settled. Clearing is necessary because the speed of trades is much faster than the cycle time for completing the underlying transaction.
In its widest sense clearing involves the management of post-trading, pre-settlement credit exposures, to ensure that trades are settled in accordance with market rules, even if a buyer or seller should become insolvent prior to settlement.
Systemically Important Payment Systems (SIPS) are payment systems which have the characteristic that a failure of these systems could potentially endanger the operation of the whole economy. In general, these are the major payment clearing or Real Time Gross Settlement systems of individual countries, but in the case of Europe, there are certain pan-European payment systems. TARGET2 is a pan-European SIPS dealing with major inter-bank payments. STEP2, operated by the Euro Banking Association is a major pan-European clearing system for retail payments which has the potential to become a SIPS. The Federal Reserve System system is a SIPS.
The United States payments system is the largest in the world. Each day, millions of transactions, valued in the trillions of dollars, are conducted between sellers and purchasers of goods, services, or financial assets. Most of the payments underlying those transactions flow between depository institutions, a large number of which maintain accounts with the Reserve Banks. The Federal Reserve therefore performs an important role as an intermediary in clearing and settling interbank payments. Banks settle payment transactions efficiently by debiting the accounts of the depository institutions making payments and by crediting the accounts of depository institutions receiving payments. Moreover, as the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve is immune from liquidity problems — not having sufficient funds to complete payment transactions — and credit problems that could disrupt its clearing and settlement activities.
The Fedwire Funds Service provides a real-time gross settlement system in which more than 9,500 participants are able to initiate electronic funds transfers that are immediate, final, and irrevocable. Depository institutions that maintain an account with a Reserve Bank are eligible to use the service to send payments directly to, or receive payments from, other participants. Depository institutions can also use a correspondent relationship with a Fedwire participant to make or receive transfers indirectly through the system. Participants generally use Fedwire to handle large-value, time-critical payments, such as payments to settle interbank purchases and sales of federal funds; to purchase, sell, or finance securities transactions; to disburse or repay large loans; and to settle real estate transactions. The Department of the Treasury, other federal agencies, and government-sponsored enterprises also use the Fedwire Funds Service to disburse and collect funds. In 2003, the Reserve Banks processed 123 million Fed-wire payments having a total value of $436.7 trillion.
The Fedwire Securities Service provides safekeeping, transfer, and settlement services for securities issued by the Treasury, federal agencies, government-sponsored enterprises, and certain international organizations. The Reserve Banks perform these services as fiscal agents for these entities. Securities are safekept in the form of electronic records of securities held in custody accounts. Securities are transferred according to instructions provided by parties with access to the system. Access to the Fed-wire Securities Service is limited to depository institutions that maintain accounts with a Reserve Bank, and a few other organizations, such as federal agencies, government-sponsored enterprises, and state government treasurer’s offices (which are designated by the U.S. Treasury to hold securities accounts). Other parties, specifically brokers and dealers, typically hold and transfer securities through depository institutions that are Fedwire participants and that provide specialized government securities clearing services. In 2003, the Fedwire Securities Service processed 20.4 million securities transfers with a value of $267.6 trillion.
The Automated Clearing House (ACH) is an electronic payment system, developed jointly by the private sector and the Federal Reserve in the early 1970s as a more-efficient alternative to checks. Since then, the ACH has evolved into a nationwide mechanism that processes credit and debit transfers electronically. ACH credit transfers are used to make direct deposit payroll payments and corporate payments to vendors. ACH debit transfers are used by consumers to authorize the payment of insurance premiums, mortgages, loans, and other bills from their account. The ACH is also used by businesses to concentrate funds at a primary bank and to make payments to other businesses. In 2003, the Reserve Banks processed 6.5 billion ACH payments with a value of $16.8 trillion.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: The Federal Reserve System: Purposes and Functions. http://www.federalreserve.gov/pf/pdf/pf_complete.pdf.