Last update: 07/10/2022

These combinations of 8–11 numbers and letters enable banks to communicate with each other. Here we tell you what SWIFT means, what information it contains, how it works and where you can find it.

Also known as Bank Identifier Code (“BIC”), SWIFT is short for “Society for World Interbank Financial Telecommunication”. The organization was founded in Brussels (Belgium) in 1973 to enable international communication among banks so they could order and receive transfers beyond their borders by way of a common messaging platform, language and computer system that verified payments, cash, foreign exchange, trade finance and custody. Today, SWIFT is a cooperative that provides encrypted messaging services to more than 11,000 financial institutions.

What SWIFT is and how it works, by PagoNxt
What SWIFT is and how it works, by PagoNxt

Why does it matter?

SWIFT enables financial institutions to communicate with each other about the international transfers and other services they perform. Without it, large companies, SMEs, sole traders and individuals would face difficulties when ordering and receiving money from bank accounts in other countries. For instance, if someone in Spain wants to send funds to a relative in Mexico, they will need the SWIFT code to identify the receiving bank, plus the recipient’s name, address, account number and other information.

The naming conventions and encryption SWIFT uses to authenticate movements afford significant transaction security. Transactions are also faster than before because it can process a high rate of international transfers in less than 30 minutes and on the same day, thanks to new standards such as SWIFT gpi (Global Payment Initiative).

What is in a SWIFT code?

Each bank has a unique SWIFT code. It usually consists of 11 characters divided into four groups: first, four letters to identify the bank; second, two letters to identify the country; third, two letters to indicate the bank’s location; and fourth (which is optional), three digits to specify the receiving branch.

For Santander, ‘BSCH’ is the bank identifier, ‘ES’ corresponds to Spain, ‘MM’ is for Madrid, and ‘XXX’ indicates that the branch will settle the transaction centrally.

How are the SWIFT code and the IBAN different?

While many people can’t tell the difference between the SWIFT code and the IBAN, it’s rather straightforward. The SWIFT code identifies a bank, and the IBAN (which stands for International Bank Account Number) identifies an account. The IBAN can certify a bank account anywhere in the world through a unique code of up to 34 characters (numbers and letters) that include the country, institution, branch and the actual account number.

How can I find out my bank’s SWIFT code?

Most banks include their SWIFT code in customer account details and on their mobile apps, websites and statements. Otherwise, you can request it at your branch.

You can find the bank’s SWIFT/BIC code or an IBAN on some websites. Simply enter the conventional number of the account on websites like Santander’s in Spain and the United Kingdom, and a tool will provide the code.

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