What is a bank identifier code (BIC)?
A bank identifier code (BIC) is a unique identifier for a specific financial institution. A BIC is composed of a 4-character bank code, 2-character country code, 2-character location code and optional 3-character branch code.
Every financial institution in the world is assigned a unique code that allows it to participate in international transactions such as cross-border payments. Anyone wanting to make international payments must provide their and their recipient's bank's BIC when initiating the transaction. Technology has always played a role in the evolution of financial services and remains essential to its stability and success.
The BIC is usually eight to 11 characters long, with a set of characters indicating a specific aspect of that financial institution. The breakup of a BIC number is as follows:
When banks don't specify the 3-character branch code, their BIC number ends with XXX. For example, the BIC number for Deutsche Bank, Frankfurt is simply DEUTDEFFXXX.
Purpose of BIC number
BIC numbers identify financial institutions, like banks, and facilitate international business transactions between them.
Without a BIC number, international transactions such as money transfers or payments will not go through. The code is essential for addressing institution-to-institution SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications) messages. It is also required to ensure all transactions are routed and executed properly, and that the money goes to the right bank.
Banks and other financial institutions also use BICs to issue letters of credit, execute payments and securities transactions, and exchange business messages with other banks. Having standards like BIC is important; global businesses count on them to accommodate transactions within different systems in different countries. The industry and leading banks are working to implement more consistent messaging.
BIC numbers are of two types:
- Connected BICs: These numbers are connected to the SWIFT messaging network and used to initiate and clear international financial transactions.
- Non-connected BICs: These codes are not connected to the SWIFT network and are only used for reference purposes.
Examples of bank identifier codes
Here are five examples of BIC numbers assigned to real financial institutions:
1. UniCredit Banca, Milan, Italy
Institution code: UNCR
Country code: IT
Branch code: not assigned
BIC number: UNCRITMM
2. Bank of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland
Institution code: BOFI
Country code: IE
Branch code: not assigned
BIC number: BOFIIE2D
3. State Bank of India (SBI), Mumbai, India
Institution code: SBIN
Country code: IN
Branch code: XXX
BIC number: SBININBBXXX
4. ANZ Bank, Melbourne, Australia
Institution code: ANZB
Country code: AU
Branch code: XXX
BIC number: ANZBAU3MXXX
5. Bank of America, New York City, United States
Institution code: BOFA
Country code: US
Branch code: XXX
BIC number: BOFAUS3NXXX
Do all banks have a BIC?
All banks that engage in international transactions are assigned a unique BIC number.
How bank identifier code works in practice
Banks are under growing pressure to make transactions essentially instant, even when they are international ones. Mr. X lives in New York City and banks with Bank of America (BoA). His branch is located at 222 Broadway. His cousin, Ms. Y, lives in Australia. Her bank is ANZ Bank (ANZ), and her home branch is located at 100 Queen St, Melbourne.
Mr. X wants to send money to Ms. Y. Since it will be an international transaction, he asks Ms. Y for her bank's BIC number. He then takes this number, along with her account number and the bank's branch address to his BoA branch in NYC.
To initiate the transaction, BoA sends a SWIFT payment transfer message to ANZ. ANZ receives the message and understands that there is an incoming payment from BoA. ANZ will then verify the transaction and credit Mr. X's money from BoA to Ms. Y's account in ANZ. This is one of several types of SWIFT financial messages that rely on the use of precise formats and fields.
Are bank identifier code and SWIFT code the same?
SWIFT is a global messaging network that allows financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about transactions, and process payments and money transfers. It manages the BIC identification scheme. In addition to banks, trading houses, forex brokers, exchanges, depositories, and clearinghouses also use the SWIFT network to exchange messages and conduct international transactions.
To facilitate both information sharing and transactions, SWIFT assigns each member institution a unique ID code, which is the BIC. BICs are also known as SWIFT codes, meaning a BIC and a SWIFT code are the same thing.
Other common names for BIC numbers are:
- SWIFT ID.
- ISO 9362 code.
- SWIFT/BIC code.
- BIC/SWIFT code.
All these names are used interchangeably.
Bank identifier codes and ISO 9362
ISO 9362 (current version: ISO 9362:2022) is an international standard that specifies the elements and structure of BIC numbers for financial and non-financial institutions. The International Standardization Organization (ISO) created and maintains the standard.
Bank identifier codes (BIC) vs. IBAN (international bank account number)
BIC numbers and IBANs are both required to execute international money transfers. They are two different numbers. The BIC number identifies a particular bank in a specific country and city; the IBAN identifies a particular customer's account at a certain bank in a certain country and city.
The IBAN is required to identify an individual account in international transactions. It usually appears on the customer's bank statement or can be viewed on their online bank account. Like the BIC number, the IBAN is an alphanumeric code that includes numeric identifiers like the individual's account number and the bank's country code.
The IBAN code always starts with a 2-character country code like NO (Norway), Luxembourg (LU), Kuwait (KW), etc. This is followed by a check digit code, a bank identifier code, a branch code, and the customer's account number.
Here are some examples of what IBAN codes might look like:
- NO 15 9205 1238654
- LU 27 005 7306447511112
- KW 81 CBKU123456789123654550392