people discussing SWIFT and BIC codes

What are SWIFT and BIC codes?

When you send money abroad, you might be asked for a SWIFT or BIC code. In this article you’ll find out what they’re for and how to use them.

What is a SWIFT code?

If you’re wondering “what is a SWIFT code used for?’, you’re not alone. SWIFT codes are identification codes used to locate and authenticate bank branches and other financial institutions around the world. In short, they tell you exactly where you’re sending your money.

You may have also heard of BIC codes. The good news is that, to all intents and purposes, BIC and SWIFT codes are the same thing. The terms are used interchangeably. BIC stands for Bank Identifier Code.

If you’re thinking about sending money overseas, it’s a good idea to understand what a SWIFT/BIC code is and what they look like.

What is the SWIFT/BIC code format?

A SWIFT code is normally made up of eight or 11 characters – usually eight letters and three numbers. The SWIFT/BIC code format is actually a combination of four different  pieces of information. They are:

  • An institute code (normally identifying a bank).
  • A country code.
  • A location or city code.
  • A branch code.

To understand what these pieces of information mean, we’ll need a real-life example. Let’s look at a branch of the Bank of China in Shanghai with the following SWIFT code:

BKCH CN BJ 300

  • BKCH is the institute code for the Bank of China.
  • CN represents the country code for China.
  • BJ means Beijing – the location of the head office of the bank.
  • 300 is the code for the specific branch of the bank in Shanghai.

The last three numbers – the bit that identifies the specific branch of the bank – are optional. This is why SWIFT codes are sometimes eight characters long.

How does SWIFT work with Azimo?

Let’s assume Peter, an Azimo customer in London, wants to send money via SWIFT to his friend in Shanghai with a Bank of China account. The process will involve Peter:

  1. Setting up the transfer with the Azimo app or website, using his friend’s account number and SWIFT code.
  2. Paying for the transfer.
  3. Awaiting a payment authorisation message from SWIFT to the bank.
  4. Getting a notification from SWIFT telling him Bank of China has credited his friend’s account.

SWIFT code meaning

Just like BIC, SWIFT is an acronym. It stands for ‘Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication’ and was introduced to solve the problem of cross-border payments and transfers. 

SWIFT went live in 1977. Less than 12 months later, SWIFT had processed 10 million “messages” (usually meaning a money transfer). Today, nearly 10,000 SWIFT member institutions send approximately 24 million messages on the network every day.

SWIFT code finder

You’ll need a SWIFT code when using your bank or Azimo to send money abroad via the SWIFT network. While we do advise against using your bank for international money transfers, we’ll show you the best way to find your recipient’s SWIFT code. 

Bank Swift Codes has a really helpful SWIFT code checker if you’re looking for bank branches all over the world.

If you need your bank’s SWIFT or BIC code, you can usually find it on the bank’s website, on a bank statement, or through an online search. 

Difference between an IBAN number and a SWIFT code

International Bank Account Numbers (IBAN) and SWIFT codes are both standardised methods of bank identification. The difference between the two lies in what information their codes convey during an international money transfer.

Whereas a SWIFT code is used to identify a specific bank, an IBAN is used to pinpoint an individual bank account. 

When making an international money transfer you’ll need to know either your recipient’s SWIFT code or IBAN. Which one depends on the bank and also the countries where the transfer will start and end.  

Azimo is the faster, cheaper way to transfer money to more than 200 countries and territories. Register with Azimo in just a few minutes and start making a difference to your friends and family straight away. Your first two transfers are fee-free.