BIC and SWIFT Codes Explained

In the realm of international money transfers, understanding the Business or Bank Identifier Code (BIC) is crucial. This alphanumeric code, also known as a SWIFT code, plays a significant role in identifying financial and non-financial institutions in transactions across borders. This article explores the concept of the BIC, its importance, and its role in the context of international money transfers.

Understanding the BIC

The Business or Bank Identifier Code (BIC) is a standardised code that identifies both financial and non-financial institutions involved in financial transactions. It is internationally recognised and is used to facilitate the automatic processing of money transfers.

A BIC consists of 8 or 11 alphanumeric characters. It includes a bank code (4 characters), a country code (2 characters), a location code (2 characters), and an optional branch code (3 characters). The bank code identifies the institution, the country code represents the country of the institution, the location code provides the location of the institution’s head office, and the branch code specifies a particular branch of the institution.

BICs are assigned and regulated by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which is a member-owned cooperative that provides safe and secure financial transactions worldwide.

Bank Code4 characters identifying the bank‘NWBK’ for NatWest
Country Code2 characters representing the country of the bank‘GB’ for United Kingdom
Location Code2 characters providing the location of the bank’s head office‘2L’ for London
Branch Code3 characters specifying a particular branch (optional)‘XXX’ for primary office

Role of BIC in International Money Transfers

In international money transfers, the BIC plays a crucial role in ensuring funds reach the correct institution. When initiating a transfer, the sender must provide the recipient’s BIC, along with other necessary details such as the recipient’s account number or International Bank Account Number (IBAN). This information guides the transfer, helping it navigate the global financial network to reach the intended recipient’s institution.

The accuracy of the BIC is paramount in ensuring the success of the transfer. Incorrect or incomplete BIC information can lead to delays, returned funds, or in some cases, the money being deposited into the wrong account. Therefore, it is essential to double-check the BIC when setting up an international money transfer.

Differences Between BIC and Other Financial Identifiers

While BICs are used primarily for identifying institutions in international transactions, other types of codes are used to identify specific accounts or routing information. Two of the most common are the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) and the bank routing number.

The IBAN is an international standard for identifying bank accounts across national borders. It can be up to 34 characters long and includes a country code, two check digits, and a number that includes the domestic bank account number, branch identifier, and potential routing information.

On the other hand, a bank routing number, also known as a routing transit number (RTN), is a nine-digit code used primarily in the United States to identify a specific financial institution.

While both the IBAN and the bank routing number serve different purposes, they are often used in conjunction with the BIC in international transactions. The BIC identifies the receiving institution, while the IBAN or routing number identifies the specific account within that institution.

Common Issues and Solutions in International Money Transfers

When it comes to international money transfers, there are several common issues related to BICs. One of the most frequent problems is the use of an incorrect BIC. This can lead to the transfer being delayed or failing altogether. To avoid this, it is crucial to double-check the BIC before initiating a transfer.

Another common issue is confusion between different types of codes. As discussed earlier, BICs, IBANs, and bank routing numbers serve different purposes. Using the wrong type of code can result in the transfer not reaching the intended recipient. Therefore, it is essential to understand the differences between these codes and use the correct one for each type of transaction.

In conclusion, BICs play a crucial role in international money transfers. They ensure that funds are correctly routed to the intended recipient’s bank. Understanding their structure, how they are used, and the common issues associated with them can help individuals and businesses make efficient and successful international money transfers.

BIC and SWIFT Codes: Are They the Same?

Two terms often come up: BIC and SWIFT codes. While they may seem different, they are essentially the same thing and provide the same service. Both are used to identify banks and other financial institutions in international transactions, ensuring that funds are correctly routed to the intended recipient’s bank.

The acronym SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which is the organisation that assigns and regulates these codes. The term BIC is short for Bank Identifier Code, which is the service that the code provides. Whether you see the term BIC or SWIFT code, know that they refer to the same system of identification in international banking.

The Role of SWIFT in BIC

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) plays a pivotal role in the assignment and regulation of BICs. As an international member-owned cooperative, SWIFT provides a network that enables financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions in a secure, standardised, and reliable environment.

SWIFT assigns each financial institution a unique BIC, which is used in transactions to identify the institution. This identification process is crucial in international money transfers, as it ensures that funds are correctly routed to the intended recipient’s bank.

SWIFT codes, or BICs, facilitate secure and efficient international transactions. They are used by more than 11,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries and territories. This widespread use underscores the importance of BICs in the global financial system.

Using BIC/SWIFT Codes for International Transactions

When making an international money transfer, using the correct BIC/SWIFT code is crucial. This code identifies the recipient’s bank and ensures that the funds are correctly routed. Here’s how to use BIC/SWIFT codes in international transactions:

First, you’ll need to obtain the BIC/SWIFT code of the recipient’s bank. This can usually be found on the bank’s website or by contacting the bank directly. It’s important to ensure that the code is correct and up-to-date.

Next, when setting up the transfer with your bank or money transfer service, you’ll be asked to provide the recipient’s bank details. This is where you enter the BIC/SWIFT code. Make sure to enter the code accurately to avoid any errors or delays in the transfer.

Remember, using the correct BIC/SWIFT code is crucial for a successful international money transfer. An incorrect or outdated code can lead to delays, extra costs, or the transfer being returned to your account.

In the next section, we will discuss the role of BIC/SWIFT codes in facilitating seamless cross-border transactions within the Eurozone through Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) payments.

BIC/SWIFT Codes and SEPA Payments

The Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) is a payment-integration initiative of the European Union for simplification of bank transfers denominated in euro. As of 2021, there were 36 members in SEPA, consisting of the 27 member states of the European Union, the four member states of the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), and the United Kingdom.

In the context of SEPA payments, BIC/SWIFT codes play a crucial role. They are used to identify the specific banks involved in the transaction, ensuring that the payment is routed correctly. This is particularly important for cross-border transactions within the Eurozone, where payments are made between banks in different countries.

However, it’s worth noting that as of February 2016, the use of BIC in SEPA payments is optional for customers, as the regulation allows the use of the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) only. Despite this, many banks still prefer to use BIC/SWIFT codes in addition to the IBAN for added precision in routing the payments.


In conclusion, the Business or Bank Identifier Code (BIC), while primarily used for identifying financial and non-financial institutions, plays a significant role in the broader context of international money transfers. Understanding its function, along with the roles of IBANs and bank routing numbers, can help ensure successful, efficient, and secure international transactions.


  1. Can I find a bank's BIC/SWIFT code online?

    Yes, most banks list their BIC/SWIFT codes on their websites. You can also use online SWIFT code databases or contact the bank directly for this information.

  2. What happens if I use an incorrect BIC/SWIFT code for a transfer?

    Using an incorrect BIC/SWIFT code can lead to delays in the transfer, additional charges, or the transfer being returned to your account. In some cases, the money could even be transferred to the wrong bank.

  3. Is a BIC/SWIFT code the same as a sort code?

    No, a BIC/SWIFT code and a sort code serve different purposes. A BIC/SWIFT code identifies a specific bank on an international level, while a sort code is used domestically within the UK to identify a specific bank branch.

  4. Do all banks have a BIC/SWIFT code?

    Most banks involved in international money transfers have a BIC/SWIFT code. However, small banks might use the BIC/SWIFT code of their corresponding bank.