Funds transfers, especially their recent electronic avatars, have received increasing attention during the last decade. Some countries have known postal or banking giro systems for many years. It was largely a new phenomenon in other jurisdictions where checks have been predominant for more than a century. Still, in almost every industrialized economy, the growing volume and amount of funds transfers within the few last years have raised concern about the vulnerability of the payment system to crisis of liquidity, operational errors and fraudulent tampering.
The absence of a statutory framework in the United States, the huge dollar amounts transiting over electronic fund transfer systems such as FedWire, CHIPS, SWIFT and other electronic clearing houses and even more the uncertainty of case law as to which party should bear potential losses, prompted a thorough legislative effort and lead, within eleven years, to the addition of a new Article 4A, « Funds Transfers », into the Uniforme Commercial Code.
In traditionally giro-oriented country like Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, etc., the need for reappraising and possibly amending the applicable statutes (civil codes and postal legislation) is not widely felt. However, this does not mean that those statutes provide a satisfactory framework. To the contrary, they seem to be considered as rather obsolete and largely inappropriate since most of their provisions, including loss allocation rules, are displaced by the standard terms of contract recommended by bankers’ associations and systematically implemended by each and every financial institution. Even the Swiss postal administration has introduced new financial services partly praeter legem, while it simultaneously seeks a revision of the liability provisions of its governing statute.
There is however a strong difference between the explicit legislative effort completed in the United States for the banking sector and the silent revision achieved de facto on our side of the Atlantic. Until now, the latter has been prepared by no real negotiation between all participants to the payment systems as to the contents of the rules, especially those governing the allocation of losses. It is also limited by traditional legal categories, such as the fault-based liability, as well as by some jus cogens like, in Switzerland, the rule mandating the revocability of any mandate until its execution, a rule that is rejected in all modern codificaiton of consumer or corporate payments.
It is all the more interesting for continental lawyers to study the thorough work of the Amercian colleagues since they might soon have to consider the necessity of refoming their national law. The globalization of the marketplace, especially of financial markets, and the growing importance of funds transfers in international trade have recently raise concern in the banking and legal community about the suitability and practicability of uncoordinated national laws. Unlike letters of credit, which have been effectively dealt with by a private codification under the auspice of the International Chamber of Commerce, the codification of international funds transfers has been undertaken by the United Nations Commission on Internatinal Trade Law (UNCITRAL). This difficult task has not yet been completed, and it seems that the 21st session of the Working Group, held in New York in July 1990, has made but littel progress.
Still, it is probably only a matter of years before a consensus in the international banking and legal communities, probably on some « soft law » instrument such as a model statute or standard contract terms, will prompt European countries to consider how they should adapt to the new situation.
The present contribution addresses the loss allocation aspect of these codification processes from a comparative perspective.
– I. Introduction
– II. Elaboration and adoption of U.C.C. article 4A
– III. The UNCITRAL draft model law for the international credit transfers : international harmonization in progress
– IV. Scopes of the codifications
– V. Economic efficiency : a tool for comparison
– VI. Operational risk
– VII. Fraud
– VIII. Conclusion