Business Identifier Codes, formerly known as SWIFT codes

Most frequently asked questions (FAQ) about BIC 

Business Identifier Code (BIC) Frequently Asked Questions

Over the past few decades eCommerce has quickly grown to include virtually every possible industry and the business world is growing smaller. As language, currency, and trade gaps are gradually closing up, business transactions are being conducted more safely and efficiently than ever.

These results are thanks in large part to the efforts of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, better known as SWIFT. This corporation is somewhat of a regulatory body that produces and manages Bank Identification Codes (BIC) for every international financial institution. The complex inner workings of SWIFT typically result in many different questions from those in the financial industry as well as curious citizens.

Why are SWIFT codes used?

SWIFT issues a Business Identifier Code (BIC) in order to facilitate the transfer of money from one bank to another. Although there are some exceptions, most banks only receive one BIC so it is easy for financial institutions to quickly send and receive funds to affiliate banks.

How do these BIC keep my money safe?

While SWIFT is not a law enforcement agency, it can provide a clear paper trail that accurately details the origin of funds as well as their final destination and most information in between as well.

How many SWIFT codes are there?

There are nearly 8,000 live SWIFT codes issued for active member institutions and more than 10,000 codes issued for inactive or rarely active participants who infrequently send wire transfers or do so manually.

Where can I find my financial institution's BIC?

Most banks, brokerage houses, and other financial institutions offer limited information about their Bank Identification Code unless a customer is either sending or receiving an international wire. Some major banks and those with international branches may post the information on their website on a user's personal account screen or through a Frequently Asked Questions page. Some websites also provide information about published BIC that are sorted by financial institution or country, like

What if I want to send money but I don't have a code?

Domestic wire transfers within one country do not typically require any special codes and can be performed with the appropriate bank or financial institution account numbers and other identifying information. International wires are more secure and will require a SWIFT code for approval to transfer funds from one country to another. Without a valid SWIFT code, no money will be transferred.

Are SWIFT codes only used to send international wires?

The Belgium based organization originally existed to make the transfer of funds between countries easier and more organized, but has since grown into a more telecommunications role as well. The complex network can be used to facilitate transfers among member banks for the purpose of loaning or borrowing money and can also be utilized to transmit secure messages between banks. This safety measure offered by SWIFT can successfully encrypt private messages and those that contain sensitive financial records information.

What do the digits and letters in a SWIFT code mean?

Each BIC is unique to a particular institution but they are basically all set up in the same way and will consist of an eight or eleven character code. When a combination of only eight characters exists, this code belongs to the primary office of a financial institution. The first four letters are the actual bank code. The next two characters refer to a country location, with the following two referencing a specific region within a country and the final characters may pinpoint a specific branch office. Click here to read more details about the BIC format.

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