IBAN Numbers, SWIFT Codes, and BIC Numbers: The Key Facts

In the context of international banking, an IBAN (International Bank Account Number) is a critical piece of information.  It serves at least three vital functions when an individual makes or receives any kind of international payment between banks.

  1. An IBAN allows financial institutions to quickly and easily note the country of the bank that a payment is being sent to.
  2. An IBAN is used to pinpoint the exact account number to which the money will be sent within that country. Clearly, if either of these aspects is missing, a successful international transfer of funds becomes an ordeal at best and impossible at worst.
  3. Finally, an IBAN allows financial institutions a highly effective and easy way to double check the accuracy of an account’s details, to ensure that a successful transfer will be made prior to initiating it.

1997 saw the introduction of standardization for account numbers with the publication of ISO 136:1997.  However, even after standardization, the European Committee For Banking Standards felt that there was still too much variety within each country’s code types, code lengths, and other vital factors.

To that end, ISO 136:1997 was updated with the stipulations that each country’s IBAN be a fixed length, and only contain uppercase letters when letters were used.  This was a very important streamlined step toward truly international IBAN standards, and a huge step forward in the functioning of international markets.

Another Vital Number: SWIFT Code

The key difference between an IBAN and a SWIFT code lies in what they’re used to identify.  Whereas an IBAN identifies the individual international account that a payment is heading to, a SWIFT code denotes the financial institution that holds the account.

Prior to the international standardization of IBAN and SWIFT codes, payments between countries and continents would frequently end up in the wrong location, complicating the lives of everyone involved.  Payments that were made in error, or ended up in the wrong locations, would frequently require extra sums of money to correct these issues.  Clearly, something had to be done.

One of the major benefits of the SWIFT system is the large amount of information it easily transfers between financial institutions.  Among the details contained in a SWIFT code are an individual’s debit and credit amounts, the status of an account, and specific information related to the individual money transfer.

An IBAN vs. A BIC

It’s also worth quickly differentiating an IBAN from a BIC, another important code in one’s financial activities.  Whereas an IBAN identifies a bank’s country of business and one’s precise account number within that institution, a BIC (Bank Identifier Code) breaks down into 3 more specific elements to aid a transaction.  Namely, a 4-letter bank code, a 2-letter country code, and a branch identifier composed of one letter and one number.

Think of an IBAN as the general compass that points an international payment in the right direction.  But even with a functioning compass, one still needs a more detailed map of the terrain through a BIC (branch code, etc.) to ensure that the money makes a successful journey overseas.  And of course, a BIC is important in helping to avoid post-transaction costs to fix a misdirected payment.

An IBAN Number Example & How To Locate It  

Now that we’ve defined and differentiated an IBAN, a SWIFT code, and a BIC, let’s discuss an IBAN example as well as a quick and easy way to find it when needed.

The IBAN is located on every paper bank statement an institution prints.  Please note that our example below is hypothetical and each individual’s IBAN will vary with their bank’s location and country of personal residence.

Here’s a hypothetical IBAN for an imaginary account from Australia: AU17SLTC30247512345678

Let’s break our imaginary Australian IBAN into its various pieces, to more easily examine how the number is constructed.

The first two letters (AU) are the country code, which identifies the country in which a bank conducts business.

The next two digits (17) are called the check number.  They allow a bank to carry out an integrity check on a given IBAN.

The next 4 letters are the bank code, which identify the bank that the account holder uses.

The sort code, the next 6 digits, along with the account code, the final 8 digits, denote the exact account into which a payment is to be deposited.  The sort code and account number are identical to an individual’s bank account details.

IBAN, SWIFT and BIC

The overseas transfer of wealth (and therefore the wellbeing of international markets and trade) is inextricably tied to the numbers and international standards we’ve covered in this article.

An IBAN, a SWIFT code, and a BIC are each a vital component in making, receiving and processing international payments of all kinds.