IBAN and SWIFT codes: what they are and how to use them

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Banks rely on certain systems to send and receive money worldwide. Though many such protocols exist, two of them stand out. These are I.B.A.N and S.W.I.F.T. Let’s dive in and see how these two methods work, and the best uses for each of them.


The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, commonly called the SWIFT code, is an implementation of the Bank Identifier Codes (BIC) that are used to uniquely recognize financial institutions and banks the world over.

Indeed, most banks make use of the SWIFT symbols to connect, communicate, and send money between one another. It comprises of 8-11 alphanumeric characters which have to be provided before any transaction can occur.

Both parties (the sender and the recipient) have to know each other’s S.W.I.F.T symbols to be able to transfer money successfully. These codes can be obtained directly from each bank, and are typically published online. For example, a quick Google search for “Bank of America SWIFT code” returns this page which says:

“Bank of America’s SWIFT code BOFAUS3N should be used for incoming wires in U.S. dollars.”

SWIFT bank codes are generally used for Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA payments) or international wire transfers. Nevertheless, banks may also use these symbols to communicate with one another.

The format of the S.W.I.F.T symbol is typically:

  • AAAA (a 4-digit bank symbol)
  • BB (a 2-digit country code)
  • CC (a 2-digit location symbol)
  • 123 (branch code).

The bank symbols are generally the shortened version of the full names of the banks, whereas the location refers to where the headquarters of the bank is situated.

Both the Business Identifier Code and SWIFT code are one and the same. Other than these, some other terms that are used to uniquely identify banks include:

  • CHIPS (Clearing House Inter-Bank Payment System)
  • NCC (National Clearing Code)
  • BSC (Bank Sort Code)
  • IFSC (Indian Financial System Code)


Whereas the SWIFT symbols are used to recognize exact banks involved in a cross-border transaction, the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) is an international standard that’s leveraged to track specific bank accounts during an international transaction.

Both SWIFT and IBAN are useful in facilitating overseas cash transfers. That’s because they jointly play a critical role in the management of international financial markets.

A typical I.B.A.N is up to 34 characters long and comprises of both letters and numbers. This mix of letters and numbers is used to uniquely define an individual’s bank account details.

An IBAN includes:

  • country code – 2 letters
  • check number – 2 digits
  • Basic Bank Account Number (BBAN) – up to 30 alphanumeric characters that are country-specific

It’s important to note that IBAN is not universally accepted as is the case of SWIFT. Canada and Australia for instance, do not recognize it. These countries avoid its complexity, and advise you to opt for simplified domestic symbols such as a routing number and account number.

IBAN is traditionally displayed in groups of four characters separated by spaces. But when transmitted electronically, the spaces are omitted. Note that the last group of characters can be variable length, as shown in the example below:

  • DE91 1000 0000 0123 4567 89 (Germany)
  • PL10 1050 0099 7603 1234 5678 9123 (Poland)

In the case of local payments, you may require a Routing Transit Number (RTN). This is a 9-digit number that originates from the Automated Clearing House (ACH), American Bank Association (ABA), and the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA).

These numbers dictate the destination of the funds being transferred and should be readily available on the online banking websites of the banks involved in the transaction.

Their History

The SWIFT code was established in 1973 and was tasked with assigning each financial institution a unique symbol. To date, this methods remains the most commonly used in international money transfers.

Its most notable strength is the fact that it enables banks to share significantly higher amounts of financial data such as account status, credit and debit amounts, and money transfer details.

A body, comprising representatives from numerous national standards organizations, called the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) was formed in 1997.

Almost immediately upon its inception, this body developed a way of standardizing the IBANs. Shortly after that, the European Committee for Banking Standards (ECBS) observed that the prevailing ISO standards had too much flexibility.

Subsequently, ECBS suggested an improved version that among other changes demanded that each country’s I.B.A.N be allotted a certain length of characters composed of only uppercase letters.


Accessing the IBAN or SWIFT symbols is often critical to the completion of a secure overseas banking transfer. So keep this in mind the next time you need to send money to another country!

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Kenneth James

As a money transfer expert at Transferly, Kenneth strives to help people navigate the world of money transfer companies and bad exchange rates. He’s seen everything this industry has to offer, and he is more than happy to share that knowledge with our readers.

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