Explained: What is a SWIFT code?

Last Updated: 04 Oct 2022

Explained: What is a SWIFT code?

SWIFT codes, aka BIC codes, are the backbone of the global financial industry. Find out why they matter to your international money transfer. 

When making an international money transfer through a currency specialist like MTFX, you'll need the following bank details: 

  • Beneficiary name 
  • Beneficiary address 
  • Beneficiary account number 
  • Bank name 
  • Bank SWIFT code 
  • Bank address 
  • Reason for transfer 

Most of it is pretty straightforward. So, this article focuses solely on explaining SWIFT codes because there's more to SWIFT codes than meets the eye. 

What's a SWIFT code and how does it work?

A SWIFT code is a unique code with 8 or 11 characters that pinpoints a specific bank or financial organization. SWIFT is short for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a global messaging network that facilitates communication between financial institutions across different countries.  

Identifying financial institutions through unique, standardized codes ensures international payments get sent to the right place quickly and safely. When you initiate an overseas transfer, your provider will send a message to the recipient's bank via the SWIFT network. Once the message is received, the recipient's bank clears and credits the money to the correct account.  

Keep in mind that SWIFT doesn't handle funds or bank accounts. It's only a messaging system to send payment orders/instructions – not money – from one bank to another. Still, the SWIFT network is highly secure and powerful enough to have revolutionized connectivity between financial institutions. 

Is a SWIFT code the same as a BIC?

BIC stands for Business Identifier Code, a unique number that identifies a particular bank or business, while SWIFT refers to the entire messaging system. SWIFT codes and BICs are used synonymously since a SWIFT code is a type of BIC that SWIFT assigns for sending and receiving international payments. Other names for a SWIFT code include SWIFT ID/number/identifier and ISO 9362 code. 

What does a SWIFT code look like?

SWIFT codes have a standard format that looks like this: AAAA-BB-CC-123. 

  • AAAA – Bank code. This is usually a shortened form of the bank's name. 
  • BB – Country code. These letters represent the country of the bank. 
  • CC – Location code. This alphanumeric code specifies the location/city. 
  • 123 – Branch code. This identifies the branch of the bank. XXX refers to the head office. 

Notice that this SWIFT code contains 11 characters (BIC11) because the branch code is added. 8-character codes (BIC8) only identify the bank, not the branch. 

SWIFT code vs. IBAN code

  • SWIFT is short for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, while IBAN is short for International Bank Account Number. 
  • A SWIFT code is 8 or 11 characters, while an IBAN is up to 34 characters. 
  • A SWIFT code identifies a particular bank and its branch, while an IBAN code identifies an individual bank account. 
  • Both IBAN and SWIFT codes ensure the smooth processing of overseas money transfers. 
  • You usually need an IBAN if you send money to a country supporting the IBAN system. Otherwise, the SWIFT code alone will do. 

How to find a SWIFT code

When transferring money overseas, you need a SWIFT code since it's used to ID your beneficiary's bank. A SWIFT code allows a bank on one side of the world to identify a bank on the other side within seconds, so getting this code right prevents delivery problems. You can find a SWIFT code by: 

  • Checking the bank's website 
  • Using an online SWIFT code checker 
  • Confirming it with your beneficiary (Ask them to look at bank account statements or log into their online banking account)


Move money across borders with MTFX

Send money SWIFTLY and securely today

When you have all the banking details needed for your overseas transfer and a better understanding of SWIFT codes, it's time to consider how exchange rates and transfer fees affect your payment. Watch out for banks because they have a reputation for marked-up exchange rates and high transfer fees.  

There are better ways of sending funds abroad, like MTFX. As a currency specialist, MTFX offers competitive exchange rates (3-5% better), lower transfer fees and quick turnaround times. (1-2 days). 

Open an account today with MTFX for secure online transfers with the best value.

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