IFX Standard Overview

Access the IFX Business Message Specification at http://bms.ifxforum.org

Background

Organizations have long had to find ways to connect and share financial information between applications of various types: self-managed or partner-managed, custom built or off-the-shelf, real-time or batch, legacy or newly developed . The challenge has always been to ensure that information can be exchanged among all of these applications in a cost-effective manner while maintaining the integrity of the transactions and data relationships.

For the most part, maintaining data and transaction integrity is a straight-forward task in closed environments which usually involve a small handful of communicating parties working together to define the exchange. However, making these exchanges interoperable on a broader scale is not easy. It can be expensive to implement such a solution and difficult to extend it to support new business models. In particular, these closed systems have been difficult to use when extending beyond the predefined B2C or B2B boundaries for which they are initially designed.

A key aspect of the ideal solution to this problem is to use a common language designed for large-scale interoperability. XML has been widely accepted as a standard intersystem language and therefore provides a possible foundation for development towards interoperability.

However, XML alone does not constitute a total solution. XML is a universal format with well-defined syntax, but beyond that there is a need for common definitions, semantics and well-defined behavior in order to facilitate rich, understandable conversations among all communicating parties. The definition of the conversation should be flexible enough to handle a wide range of financial transactions, and it must be extensible enough to implement even the most complex business rules; all while minimizing the cost of participation.

What is IFX?

IFX is a content rich, well-designed financial messaging protocol built by financial industry and technology leaders with decades of combined experience; experts who have painstakingly defined, modeled and incorporated real-life use cases to produce relevant and useful business data objects. The result is a consistent framework incorporating best-of-breed design principles, a common object model, a service oriented architecture that accounts for the interactions among those objects and carefully defined data definitions. 

IFX provides:

  1. A strong, flexible, open framework that supports extensions in an efficient, interoperable manner without sacrificing predictable, valid results in operation;
  2. Content that is meaningful and useful to the financial services industry based on real-world business use-cases;
  3. Well-defined semantics for communications that are easily implemented using common and emerging technologies without being tied to any particular technology.

In short, IFX a Business Message Specification that broadly serves the needs of the financial services industry to exchange data electronically through a variety of channels in order to accomplish a variety of transactions.

Financial Business Messages

IFX is built with the recognition that no single financial transaction stands on its own, but is an integral part of the relationship among all of the communicating parties: a payment is not complete until a remittance is sent, an ATM withdrawal is not complete until a consumer's account has been debited, and so forth.

Currently IFX provides content-rich conversations in the areas of:

  • Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment
  • Business to Business Payments
  • Business to Business Banking (such as balance and transaction reporting, remittance information)
  • Automated Teller Machine and Point of Sale communications
  • Branch Banking Services
  • Consumer to Business Payments
  • Consumer to Business Banking
  • Card Management and Services

 

IFX is designed specifically for interoperability of systems seeking to exchange financial information internally and externally. This means that not only does IFX address the data exchange requirements for the environments defined above, it also allows for interoperability among all of the business areas.

Backwards Compatibility

IFX is committed to maintaining backwards compatibility so that implementations are reliable even as new capabilities are added.  The stated policy of IFX is that  all specification changes that impact IFX messages must be fully compatible with the previous point revision level of the specification. Specification changes must not require changes by an implementation in order to continue processing at the same level of functionality within a major release level. 

There are 2 types of compatibility that we are concerned with:

Syntactic compatibility: is the consistent representation of message and data structure, i.e., formats, tag names, and element definitions between old and new levels of the specification.

Semantic compatibility: is the consistent operation of message function, i.e., behavioral consistency between old and new levels of the specification.

There are currently 2 major revision levels supported by IFX commonly referred to as v1.x and v2.x.  Consistent with our policy, every point release in the v1.x family from 1.1.0 – 1.8.1 is compatible with lower version releases.  We are proud to have maintained that record for over 10 years.

Version 2.x is not directly compatible with version 1.x.  The version 2.x framework imposes new structural constraints on IFX Objects; more readily adapts to modern SOA environments and deprecates elements that had been identified as obsolete in version 1.  Version 2 is the "go-forward" architecture for the IFX standard.

IFX continues to support v1.x and, within limits, adds new data elements and functionality as required by members to maintain the viability of implementations based on that architecture.

More Information

The IFX Forum continues to develop new capabilities and provides implementation guidance to members in the form of published implementation guides, email dialog and archived proposal details.  These documents can be found in the members-only sections at www.ifxforum.org.

For more detailed information about the IFX Framework  please go to http://www.ifxforum.org/standards/