Thursday, 12 January 2006

IBAN, BIC, SWIFT and all that malarkey

I went back to the bank yesterday to ask for the details I need so that I can invoice my customer in the US and they can pay me. What I need is simple: I need the relevant codes to enable them to send an international payment to my account. I had gone on Tuesday already but the answer I had got at the counter was not satisfying so I decided to ask a financial adviser. As I suspected, the actual answer is quite different.

In the UK, an account is given a 6-digit sort code and an 8-digit account number. The sort code identifies the exact branch where your account is held. The account number itself identifies the exact account in that branch. Those two pieces of information are all you need to transfer money from another account held in the UK. However, if you want to transfer money to your UK account from a foreign account, you need more than that and it can take three forms:

  • IBAN, International Bank Account Number is an alphanumeric code that identifies the banking institution, country, branch and account. It has a standard format and is widely used in the European Union. In practice, IBAN for UK accounts include the sort code and account number but add more information to make it recognisable internationally.
  • BIC, Bank Identifier Code, is an alphanumeric code that identifies the exact branch where your account is held, like the UK sort code, but is recognised internationally. To fully identify your account, you need to provide the local account number as well, like the 8 digit UK account number.
  • SWIFT, Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is the organisation through which most international transfers are executed and it looks like they have their own codes to uniquely identify the branch where your account is held. Because SWIFT is a widely used international body, their codes are widely used as well. Like BIC, you need to provide your account number as well to uniquely identify the account.

I now have all those different bits of information for my business bank account and have included them on my invoice template. So no customer of mine should have any problem paying me. The first invoice is in the post.

10 comments:

Tricia Booth said...

I'm having all kinds of trouble getting Wells Fargo, with whom I have an account, to transfer my money to my UK account. My bank has twice supplied the IBAN and BIC codes and told me these ARE the SWIFT codes, but Wells Fargo cannot grasp it, and keep on demanding that I give them a SWIFT code they can understand. ARGHHH.

Georges Clownet said...

http://swift-codes.blogspot.com

Maybe you could find there that what you are looking for...

Anonymous said...

Does any one figure out what the sort code is for Wells Fargo? I have a friend wanting to wire me money from the U.K. but Wells Fargo does not know what a sort code is.

Thanks

Anonymous said...

oops "did anyone"...sorry haven't had coffee yet!

Bruno said...

The sort code is used in the UK to identify the bank and branch where an account is held. It only has meaning for a UK bank and is used for national money transfers. For your friend to send a payment to Wells Fargo in the US, he/she will need the BIC or IBAN code of Wells Fargo, in addition to your account number and he/she will then need to instruct his/her bank to do an international transfer. I am not surprised that Wells Fargo doesn't know what a sort code is: they are not a UK bank so it has no meaning to them. Ask for the BIC/IBAN codes and provide them to your friend.

Anonymous said...

"he/she," "his/her" -- very hard to read and irritating. Go for one or the other and stick with it.

Bruno said...

@Anonymous: thanks for the comment. Contrary to my native language, English doesn't indicate gender on nouns (as in 'friend' which is the same word whether your friend is male or female) so I'm often at a loss when replying to a gender-less sentence when my reply requires gender (as in 'he' or 'she'). Your suggestion sounds sensible: choose one and stick with it. I hope it was still legible though.

Anonymous said...

No, use SWIFT for Wells Fargo:
WFBIUS6S

BIC Code said...

SWIFT also uses 12-character codes that are derived from the BIC of the institution. These codes are very beneficial in terms of money transfer.

Bank Code said...

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