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 SWIFT Codes / BIC Codes - What are they?

SWIFT-BIC, BIC code, SWIFT ID or SWIFT code (ISO 9362) is a standard format of Business Identifier Codes approved by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). It is a unique identification code for both financial and non-financial institutions. The acronym SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. When assigned to a non-financial institution, the code may also be known as a Business Entity Identifier or BEI. These codes are used when transferring money between banks, particularly for international wire transfers, and also for the exchange of other messages between banks. The codes can sometimes be found on account statements.

The overlapping issue between ISO 9362 and ISO 13616 is discussed in the article International Bank Account Number (also called IBAN). The SWIFT network does not require a specific format for the transaction so the identification of accounts and transaction types is left to agreements of the transaction partners. In the process of the Single Euro Payments Area the European central banks have agreed on a common format based on IBAN and BIC including an XML-based transmission format for standardized transactions; the TARGET2 is a joint gross clearing system in the European Union that does not require the SWIFT network for transmission (see EBICS). The TARGET-directory lists all the BICs of the banks that are attached to the TARGET2-network being a subset of the SWIFT-directory of BICs.

Swift Code General Structure

The SWIFT code / BIC code is made up of 8 or 11 characters, broken down as follows:

  • 4 letters: Institution Code or bank code.
  • 2 letters: ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code
  • 2 letters or digits: location code
    • if the second character is "0", then it is typically a test BIC as opposed to a BIC used on the live network.
    • if the second character is "1", then it denotes a passive participant in the SWIFT network
    • if the second character is "2", then it typically indicates a reverse billing BIC, where the recipient pays for the message as opposed to the more usual mode whereby the sender pays for the message.
  • 3 letters or digits: branch code, optional ('XXX' for primary office)

Where an 8-digit code is given, it may be assumed that it refers to the primary office.

SWIFT Standards, a division of The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), handles the registration of these codes. Because SWIFT originally introduced what was later standardized as Business Identifier Codes (BICs), they are still often called SWIFT addresses or codes.

SWIFT / BIC Codes for World’s Largest Economies based on Gross Domestic Product

The countries below are the 30th largest economies based on their Gross Domestic Product financial indicator according to the list provided by International Monetary Fund (estimate) (2012).

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Turkey Flag
Netherlands Flag
Saudi Arabia Flag
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Iran Flag
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Argentina Flag
Taiwan Flag
Austria Flag
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Swift code examples

Example 1: Deutsche Bank is an international bank, with its head office in Frankfurt, Germany. The SWIFT code for its primary office is DEUTDEFF:
  • DEUT identifies Deutsche Bank
  • DE is the country code for Germany
  • FF is the code for Frankfurt
Deutsche Bank uses an extended code of 11 digits and has assigned branches or processing areas individual extended codes. This allows the payment to be directed to a specific office. For example, DEUTDEFF500 would direct the payment to an office of Deutsche Bank in Bad Homburg.
Example 2: Nedbank is a primarily South African bank, with its head office in Johannesburg. The SWIFT code for its primary office is NEDSZAJJ:
  • NEDS identifies Nedbank
  • ZA is the country code for South Africa
  • JJ is the code for Johannesburg
Nedbank has not implemented the extended code of 11 digits and all SWIFT transfers to its accounts are directed to the primary office for processing. Those transfer interfaces that require an 11 digit code would enter NEDSZAJJXXX.
Example 3: Unicredit Banca is a primarily Italian bank with its head office in Rome. The SWIFT code for the branch in Venice is e.g., UNCRIT2B912.
  • UNCR identifies Unicredit Banca
  • IT is the country code for Italy
  • 2B912 is the code for Venice.
Unicredit Banca is a primarily Italian bank with its head office in Rome. The SWIFT code for the branch in Venice is e.g., UNCRIT2B912 .

Note that one bank can seem to have more than one bank identifier in a given country for separation purposes. Bank of East Asia separates its representative branch in the US and its US-based operations for local customers into BEASUS33xxx (following the code used in its home country) and BEAKUS33xxx respectively. This differs from its local mainland China operations which are also BEASCNxxxxx following Hong Kong rather than having a separate identifier code.

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