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The Ultimate Guide to SWIFT Code

Updated on July 15, 2022 10:20 am
SWIFT sign

Never before has it been so simple and secure to send money abroad. The SWIFT network is used for the majority of international money transfers. Do you know how the SWIFT system makes sure the money gets to where it has to go?

Using SWIFT codes when sending or receiving money internationally ensures that it reaches the right bank. For smooth transactions that lead to quick and simple payments, it's critical to know how SWIFT codes operate.

In this article, we covered the definition of SWIFT, SWIFT code meaning, SWIFT code lookup, its applications in banking, its role in money transfer services, and more.

What Is The SWIFT System?

SWIFT stands for Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. 

SWIFT is a global messaging network that banks and other financial institutions use to swiftly, accurately, and securely send and receive information, like instructions for money transfers.

The network itself doesn't carry out transfers. It merely passes along transfer instructions between banks and sometimes through intermediate institutions to pass the instructions. Its ability to promote efficient, secure communication between member institutions is what gives it its utility.

How Popular Is The SWIFT Network?

The network includes over 11,000 entities globally and encompasses more than 200+ nations and territories. Financial institutions in the world have the option to join the SWIFT network.

SWIFT has become an integral part of the global financial infrastructure. In 2021, the network processed an average of 42 million messages per day, an 11.4% increase over 2020.

Even though there are other communication providers, including Fedwire, Ripple, and Clearing House Interbank Payments System (CHIPS), SWIFT has maintained its monopoly in the industry. 

Its success may be due to how it consistently introduces new message codes to convey various financial transactions and the use of the latest technology to guarantee secure and faster global trade.

Although SWIFT was originally designed to deliver messages for straightforward payment instructions, it today also sends messages for a wide range of other actions, such as security transactions, treasury transactions, trade transactions, and system transactions.

According to data from SWIFT's most recent report, which was published in January 2022, 44.5% of all messages sent over the network are still payment-based messages, while security transactions account for 50% of all traffic and Treasury, trade, and system transactions make up the remaining traffic flows.

What Is A SWIFT Code?

A SWIFT code also referred to as a Business Identification Code (BIC), is a string of 8 or 11 characters assigned to banks by SWIFT. Other names for the BIC include SWIFT code, SWIFT ID, and ISO 9362 code. Since these identifiers or IDs are the same, they are sometimes used interchangeably and listed together on banking websites.

Every bank that belongs to the SWIFT network is assigned a unique code that is either 8 characters or 11 characters long called a bank SWIFT code. A member bank may have a single or several SWIFT codes.

SWIFT codes identify bank branches for international transactions to ensure quick and accurate fund transfers. The code identifies them and their location; it functions as a form of international bank code or ID.

These codes are needed when sending money between banks, in particular, for international wire transfers or SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) payments. These codes are also used by banks to communicate with one another.

SWIFT/BIC Code Format

8-11 character code that identifies the bank, country, city, and branch. It has four components.

  • First Four Letters: Bank Code (A-Z). It represents the bank and an abbreviated version of the bank's name.
  • Next Two Letters: Country Code (A-Z). It represents the country the bank is in.
  • Next Two Letters: Location Code (0-9/A-Z). Two characters are made up of letters or numbers that identify the city of the bank.
  • Last Three Letters: Branch Code (0-9/ A-Z). This is optional. It represents a particular bank's branch, especially when a bank has more than one branch in a local area.

Example of a SWIFT code: WFBIUS6WFFX. WFBI: Wells Fargo bank code. US: United States. 6W: Wells Fargo's Head Office location. FFX: specific Wells Fargo branch.

How Do SWIFT Codes Work?

The SWIFT code for the receiving bank and the recipient's account number is required when sending money overseas.

Due to the fact that each financial institution has its own SWIFT code, using these codes will help ensure that the money you are sending or receiving by wire actually reaches the correct bank account.

Let's imagine you wish to send $3000 to a friend in India, but you live in the United States. You would make a transfer request by going to your local bank. You will need to give your friend's name, their bank's name and address, their account number, and their bank's SWIFT code. You can complete this task online, through a mobile app, on the phone, or you might need to visit the bank physically.

Your bank will send a SWIFT message to the receiving bank for the transfer to be accepted. The transfer is finished once the recipient's bank has approved the payment.

Despite offering real-time payments, SWIFT transfers can take a few days, 5 days, or even longer because each bank verifies the legitimacy and security of the transaction. Your bank might charge you a fee to send or receive a SWIFT payment, just like domestic payments may be subject to wire transfer costs.

When Do You Need A SWIFT/BIC Code?

It is necessary to know the SWIFT or BIC code of the recipient's bank for every international transfer. Banks are assisted by SWIFT codes in handling international transfers.

Knowing the SWIFT code of your recipient bank is necessary if you are the sender. Similarly, if someone is sending you money, they need to know the SWIFT code of your bank.

Do All Banks Have SWIFT Code?

No, however, any financial institution in the world has the choice to join the SWIFT network. 

SWIFT alone is not a financial establishment. It is a global organization designed for convenience. Banks are not required to be linked with any organization. 

The advantage of joining SWIFT for banks that do cross-border transactions is having access to a quick and safe means of sending money abroad.

Many small banks and credit unions in the United States are not members of the SWIFT network and lack a SWIFT code. 

Instead, some of these institutions use other U.S. banks as intermediaries to send and receive wire transfers and overseas transactions or use other wire transfer services.

Can Banks Transfer Money Without SWIFT Code?

Yes. The SWIFT code is not required for bank transfers. However, in order to process the payments in this way, slower and older systems are used (often relying, in part, on manual settlement). This increases the complexity, cost, speed, and uncertainty of international payments.

How Do I Find The SWIFT Code For My Bank?

SWIFT codes are easy to find. They are important to have available for anyone conducting regular international transfers.

There are several ways to find the SWIFT code of your bank.

  • Website of your bank
  • Contacting your bank 
  • Going over your bank statement
  • A quick internet search using the bank's name and the "SWIFT code" keyword

Finding the correct SWIFT code is crucial because banks may have many SWIFT codes. 

Many banks have distinct SWIFT codes for each of their various branches. Some banks in the United States use separate SWIFT codes for inbound transfers made in foreign currencies and U.S. dollars. Make sure to properly check the correct SWIFT code when transferring money.

SWIFT Codes FAQs

Is A SWIFT Code Same As A Routing Number?

Routing numbers and SWIFT codes are distinct, although they both perform the same function.

In the United States, banks are identified by their 9-digit ABA routing numbers, which makes it simpler to handle domestic payments. For international payments, bank branches are identified by SWIFT codes.

Is A SWIFT Code The Same As An IBAN?

An IBAN, or international bank account number, is not the same as a SWIFT code. 

IBAN is another standard for identifying banks for international payments.  In the Eurozone, IBANs are most commonly used. For both domestic and foreign transfers, IBANs identify specific bank accounts.

The SWIFT/BIC code is used to identify your specific bank when sending money abroad. Your IBAN identifies the bank where you have an account.

U.S. banks do not utilize IBANs; instead, they use SWIFT codes.

Who Is The Owner Of The SWIFT System?

Under Belgian law, SWIFT is a cooperative corporation that is owned and run by its shareholders (financial institutions), which collectively represent about 3,500 businesses worldwide.

The central banks of the G-10 regulate SWIFT. Depending on the holding of shares, members are divided into classes. A one-time joining fee and annual support fees that vary by member class are paid by all members.

SWIFT charges users a fee for each message according to the message type and length. These fees also change based on the bank's usage volume; multiple pricing levels are available for banks that generate different amounts of message volume.

Bottomline

SWIFT codes are crucial for international money transfers by making it easier for banks in different countries to exchange transfer instructions. SWIFT codes are safe because encryption is used to safeguard the data sent across the SWIFT network. 

If you frequently send or receive money overseas, you should be aware of where to find a bank's SWIFT number.

SWIFT has remained the market leader since it was established as a global messaging network in 1974. Its recent forays into new markets, like providing utilities and data for business intelligence, show that it is prepared to keep coming up with new ideas.

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