What is a Bank Identifier Code?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A bank identifier code (BIC) is a standardized and unique code used to identify a specific bank. Such codes are used for wire transfers, especially internationally, and for financial communications between banks. Some banks list their codes on statements so that people can access them easily, and it is also possible to ask bank officials for the code if it is needed for something such as a wire transfer.

A bank identifier code, or SWIFT code, is a standardized code used to identify a specific bank.
A bank identifier code, or SWIFT code, is a standardized code used to identify a specific bank.

BICs are administered by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). They are also sometimes known as SWIFT codes, and the terms SWIFT-BIC or ISO 9362 may also be used to describe a bank identifier code. “ISO 9362” references the International Organization for Standardization, which devised the standardized format for bank identifier codes to ensure that there would be international consistency.

The first four characters of a bank identifier code are letters which refer to the bank. The next two characters, also letters, are a country code indicating where the bank is located, and the following two characters cite a specific location. Three optional characters can be added as a branch code, in the event that a transmission is not being sent to the bank's headquarters. The location and branch codes may be alphanumeric.

Standardization of bank codes with the use of ISO 9362 accomplished several important goals. The first was that there was a uniform system in place, which greatly reduced confusion and ensured that banks could send communications easily and securely. The use of a bank identifier code also reduces errors, because the code are designed to be logical, making it easy to catch transcription errors and other problems. Standardization also reduces the risk of conflicting codes, which makes it more certain that communications will end up where they are supposed to be, and not at another bank by accident.

When sending money internationally from bank to bank, people usually need a bank identifier code for the transaction, along with specific account information for the recipient. Some banks are willing to look this information up for their customers when they make transfers, although bank employees may caution customers that if they do not have the name and location of the bank right, the money may end up in the wrong location. For this reason, people are usually advised to get the bank identifier code, account number, routing number, and other information needed for a wire transfer directly from the recipient.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Potterspop - I work in finance, so I think I can put your mind at rest. Any bank that can handle international transfers will be experienced in the process.

Of course it would be safest to take your statement, to avoid having to read numbers in English. The teller will also have access to a master bank identifier code list if they have any concerns.

Should the worst happen and a mistake is made, the buck stops with whoever made it. So a bank would compensate you for money sent to the wrong account, if they entered the wrong information. Obviously, if you give them incorrect information then you risk losing the money forever.

You will get a copy of the form once the money is wired. Check this carefully against the BIC code on your statement, just to be sure.


I have to make an international transfer soon, to make sure my student loan payment is covered while I'm working abroad for a while.

The bank identification code is on my bank statement, so I'm not worried about that. The thing that makes me nervous is a mistake being made when it's entered into the system. If the cash is sent to the wrong place who is liable for that?

As I'll be doing this from a non English speaking country I imagine the chance of a misunderstanding is pretty high.


When I wanted to send money to someone via a credit union I found out they don't have their own bank swift code. Instead you have to get the number they are assigned via an international bank.

I hope this helps someone save time, rather than searching through swift code lookup sites, as I did!

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