Bank Identifier: Definition and Types

In the world of banking, particularly in international money transfers, certain codes are paramount for the successful movement of funds. One of these critical codes is the Bank Identifier, an umbrella term for a series of codes including the Bank Identifier Code (BIC), the Bank Routing Number, and the International Bank Account Number (IBAN). These unique sets of alphanumeric characters play a crucial role in identifying financial institutions globally and ensure the correct and secure transfer of money.

What is a Bank Identifier Code (BIC)?

The Bank Identifier Code, often termed as SWIFT code (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), is an international standard used to identify banks globally. The code consists of 8 to 11 characters and encompasses information about the bank’s location, branch, and name.

The structure of the BIC is as follows:

  • The first four characters signify the bank or institution (only letters)
  • The next two characters indicate the country (only letters)
  • The following two characters represent the location or city (letters and digits)
  • The optional last three characters identify the branch (letters and digits)

For example, consider the BIC ‘NWBKGB2L’. ‘NWBK’ stands for NatWest Bank, ‘GB’ for the United Kingdom, ‘2L’ for the city London. This code uniquely identifies NatWest Bank in London, UK, in the global financial system.

What is a Bank Routing Number?

A Bank Routing Number, or Routing Transit Number (RTN), is a nine-digit code used primarily in the United States. It identifies the specific financial institution involved in a transaction. Unlike the BIC, it does not directly specify the country or city but is unique to each bank.

Developed by the American Bankers Association (ABA) in 1910, the Bank Routing Number has the following structure:

  • The first four digits represent the Federal Reserve symbol
  • The next four digits identify the specific bank
  • The last digit is a mathematical check digit, ensuring the number’s validity

Understanding the differences between the BIC and the Bank Routing Number is fundamental in making successful international money transfers, primarily when transactions involve U.S. banks. It ensures the correct identification of the sending and receiving banks, preventing errors that could delay or misdirect the transfer.

What is an International Bank Account Number (IBAN)?

Another form of Bank Identifier that is crucial for international money transfers is the International Bank Account Number (IBAN). Introduced by the European Committee for Banking Standards (ECBS), the IBAN is now widely used not only across Europe but also in several other countries globally.

The IBAN uniquely identifies an individual account involved in an international transaction. This alphanumeric code can be up to 34 characters long and provides details including the country, the bank, and the individual account number.

The structure of the IBAN includes:

  • A two-letter country code
  • Two check digits
  • Basic Bank Account Number (BBAN), which includes the Bank Identifier for the account’s financial institution and the individual’s specific account number.

For instance, an example IBAN for the United Kingdom could be ‘GB29 NWBK 6016 1331 9268 19’, where ‘GB’ represents the country code, ’29’ is the check digits, and ‘NWBK 6016 1331 9268 19’ represents the BBAN.

Why are Bank Identifiers Important?

Bank Identifiers are vital in ensuring the accuracy and speed of money transfers. They allow for the precise identification of banks and individual accounts, reducing the risk of errors in transactions. These codes also support the automation of transactions, which improves the speed and efficiency of money transfers.

In the realm of international money transfers, the importance of correctly utilizing Bank Identifiers cannot be overstated. By using the correct codes, businesses and individuals can ensure their transactions are processed quickly and reach the right destination. This is especially critical for businesses dealing with multiple international transactions where errors could lead to significant financial loss and damaged relationships.

How to Find Your Bank Identifier?

Bank Identifiers, including BICs, Bank Routing Numbers, and IBANs, are usually provided by your bank. They can often be found on your bank statement or through your online banking portal. Alternatively, you can contact your bank directly to get this information.

If you are receiving an international money transfer, you will need to provide your IBAN and BIC to the sender. Conversely, if you are sending money, you will need to obtain the receiver’s BIC and IBAN. Remember, using the correct codes is crucial to ensure the successful completion of your transaction.

Understanding SWIFT Codes

In many countries outside the US, a different kind of Bank Identifier, known as a SWIFT code, is used. Standing for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, these codes are an essential part of international banking.

SWIFT codes, sometimes called BIC codes (Bank Identifier Codes), are unique identification codes for a particular bank. They consist of eight or eleven characters made up of both letters and numbers, with each set of characters denoting specific information. The breakdown of the SWIFT code is as follows:

  • The first four characters are the bank code (usually letters)
  • The next two characters represent the country code (usually letters)
  • The following two characters are the location/city code (letters and/or numbers)
  • The last three characters (optional) represent the branch code (letters and/or numbers)

For example, the SWIFT code ‘BARCGB22’ belongs to Barclays in the United Kingdom. Here ‘BARC’ is the bank code for Barclays, ‘GB’ is the country code for the United Kingdom, and ’22’ is the location code for London.

How do Bank Identifiers Aid in Fraud Prevention?

A key advantage of bank identifiers is that they add an extra layer of security to financial transactions, aiding in fraud prevention. By requiring the correct, matching identifiers, it is more difficult for unauthorized individuals to gain access to accounts or to falsify transfers. For instance, if an account number and its corresponding BIC do not match, banks will often reject the transaction, thwarting potential fraud.


In the complex world of banking and especially international money transfers, Bank Identifiers play a crucial role. They provide an additional layer of security, facilitate speedy transactions, and enable error-free communication between banks across the globe.

While it may seem daunting to understand these different codes, it is essential for anyone involved in international money transfers. Familiarizing oneself with these codes is a crucial step in ensuring seamless financial transactions, whether you’re a business making regular overseas payments or an individual sending money to loved ones abroad.


  1. Is the use of Bank Identifiers mandatory for all types of transactions?

    No, the use of bank identifiers like BICs, SWIFT codes, or routing numbers is typically required for international transactions or domestic wire transfers. For standard domestic transactions, usually, only the account number is necessary.

  2. Can the same bank have multiple SWIFT codes?

    Yes, larger multinational banks often have multiple SWIFT codes. Each branch of the bank in different countries can have its unique SWIFT code.

  3. Is it safe to share my bank’s BIC or SWIFT code?

    Yes, BICs and SWIFT codes are public information used to identify banks in transactions. They do not reveal any personal account details.

  4. How can I find the SWIFT code for my bank?

    You can typically find your bank’s SWIFT code on its website, on your bank statement, or by contacting your bank directly.

  5. What happens if an incorrect Bank Identifier is used in a transaction?

    If an incorrect Bank Identifier is used, it could result in delays, errors in the transaction, or even the transaction being returned by the recipient bank. Always double-check these codes before initiating a transfer.

  6. Is there a global database where I can check the validity of a Bank Identifier?

    Yes, the SWIFT network provides a database where you can verify the validity of a SWIFT code. This can be particularly useful when dealing with international transactions.

  7. Can I do an international transfer without the recipient’s BIC or SWIFT code?

    In most cases, you will need the recipient’s BIC or SWIFT code to send an international money transfer. However, in some instances, providing the correct IBAN can be enough. Always check with your bank to ensure you have all the necessary details.