What is a SWIFT Code?

Jeannine Klein
Jeannine Klein January 2020 4 min

Table of contents

Not long ago, international payments were far less common for small businesses and individuals. Only bigger companies were making international payments and the accounting departments took the responsibility. Individuals and small companies often only traded locally.   

People and businesses have become far more mobile. Even small businesses are now operating internationally and send payments across borders. The need for money transfer systems has increased, and SWIFT payments are the method used in most cases. With the development of the Eurozone, alternatives such as SEPA now exist.   

Most people have no idea how money transfers are made or controlled. All they need to know, is that their money reaches the right beneficiary. Transferring money between local banks and across international borders requires different systems, and Penta is here to help with both. 

That’s where SWIFT and the SWIFT code comes in

SWIFT is an acronym for the Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. It is a financial messaging system connecting banks and other financial institutions around the world. The system allows banks to arrange international money transfers safely and securely.   

You may also hear the term BIC, which is the acronym for Business Identifier Code. BIC and SWIFT codes are identical and serve the same purpose, but depending on where you live, your bank will use one or the other terms. 

But how does the SWIFT messaging system send money?

Well, here’s the key, SWIFT doesn’t send any money. The SWIFT system is simply a secure method for one business to tell another business that funds need to be transferred between two accounts.   

Suppose you live in Germany, and you want to send $1000 to your client in the USA. First, you will contact your own bank to give them the beneficiary details, such as the account name, bank name, the amount you want to send, and crucially the SWIFT code.   

The SWIFT code identifies the individual bank where your client has her account. Your bank will send a SWIFT message to your client’s bank to inform them a transfer is being made. Once the message is received, the transfer of money between the accounts can take place. The actual transfer of money is a manual process performed by the banks, and this is the reason SWIFT transfers can take several days. In very basic terms, this is the process followed for every SWIFT payment.  

What does a SWIFT code look like and what is included?  

You’ve most likely seen a SWIFT or BIC code but had no idea what the various letters and numbers meant. A bank SWIFT code is composed of 8 or 11 characters, and is defined by the International Standard, ISO 9362:2014.  

The first four digits identify the individual bank. The next two digits identify the country. Two more digits identify the location and the last three digits identify the branch, but this part is optional.

For example;  

Penta is powered by solarisBank AG, and the SWIFT code is SOBKDEBBXXX  

Bank: SOBK – solarisBank  

Country: DE – Germany  

Location: BB – Berlin  

Branch: XXX – not used

If you do not know the SWIFT code for a bank, it is very easy to find using one of the free online SWIFT code checker websites. All you will need is the country and the name of the bank.  

Penta can provide low cost international payments for all your business needs, to go with your brilliant Penta business account. We use SWIFT transfers for all your international payments unless a cheaper local transfer can be made instead. Within the Eurozone, we also offer SEPA payments, which are more cost effective for Euro to Euro transfers.

Take a look at the Penta business account today to discover all the great features, including cost-effective international payments. 

FAQ

No, IBANS are used to identify individual bank accounts. SWIFT codes can only identify an individual bank branch, and other information is required to identify the individual account.

Sort codes can only identify a bank branch within a particular country for local payments. SWIFT codes are used for international payments.

There are several online websites that you can use to find a bank SWIFT code. Alternatively, ask the recipient to send you their full bank details.

SWIFT payments incur a charge from your bank for sending the money. The actual charge is not set internationally, and will vary between banks. Penta has a low-cost process for international payments, helping to make your business more competitive on the international market.

At Penta, security of your funds is our top priority. We have many systems in place to make sure your money is safe with Penta. In addition, SWIFT messages are a secure method of arranging international transfers.

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