SWIFT Operations Forum Americas Conference at the Convene Center in the TIAA-Cref Building in midtown Manhattan, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Photo Copyright 2013 Garrett Ewald
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Looking at SWIFT Code and SWIFT

If you are a banking or financial professional, you might have come across the term “SWIFT Code” frequently.  If you do international payment transfer, you will always need to state the SWIFT code of the receiving bank.

If you are managing wealth for clients especially for ultra-high net worth clients, you would be asked to do frequent international payments for investments and expenses, and that involves accurately processing payments with the correct SWIFT codes.

What exactly is a SWIFT Code?  How does it work?

How SWIFT Code looks like:


8 digit SWIFT Code ~ to a Bank of China branch in Hong Kong


11 digit SWIFT Code ~ to a Citibank branch in Singapore


How do you read a SWIFT Code?

SWIFT Photo 1

SWIFT code are either in 8 or 11 characters.  8-digits code refers to the primary office (bank).  For 11 characters SWIFT code, the last 3 characters refer to the branch code.

Interpreting the SWIFT Code:

  • First 4 characters – bank code (only letters)
  • Next 2 characters – ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code (only letters)
  • Next 2 characters – location code (letters & digits) (passive participant will have “1” in the second character)
  • Last 3 characters – branch code, optional (‘XXX’ for primary office) (letters & digits)


SWIFT Code Bank Country Location Branch
Intepretation Citibank Singapore Singapore Global Consumer Banking Unit


What is SWIFT Code?

SWIFT Code is a unique identifier for banks.  It uses a standard format of Bank Identifier Codes (BIC), popularly known as “SWIFT codes”.  The codes are used for transferring money between banks, especially for international payments. Banks also use SWIFT Code for communication purposes such as exchanging messages.


Who is behind the SWIFT Code?

SWIFT Sibos Event 5

SWIFT is the entity that created the SWIFT Code. The acronym SWIFT stands for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication.


The History of SWIFT

In 1973, The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, SWIFT was founded as a cooperative utility by 239 banks from 15 countries.  The purpose is to solve a common problem: how to communicate about cross-border payments.  It is headquartered in Belgium.


SWIFT Messaging Service 

SWIFT Office Building 2 1024x683
SWIFT Operations Forum Americas Conference at the Convene Center in the TIAA-Cref Building in midtown Manhattan, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Photo Copyright 2013 Garrett Ewald

In 1977, 4 years after its founding, SWIFT went live with its messaging service, which replaced the Telex Technology that was widely used then.  A total of 518 institutions from 22 countries were connected to SWIFT’s messaging services.

About Telex Technology

The telex network are used to send text-based messages.  It is a switched network of teleprinters, similar to a telephone network.  It is used as early as 1926 and gained widespread use after 1945.    The Telex technology is similar to modern day fax, email and texting though is less used but still relevant in selected industry such as the maritime industry.

The 1977 SWIFT messaging services:

  • Message Platform
  • Computer system to validate & route messages
  • A set of message standards

The standards were developed to allow a common understanding of the data, across different languages and banking systems.  This will allow seamless and automated receiving and processing of communication exchanged between banks (users).


The Standards

The standards are defined under ISO 9362 – a standard format of Business Identifier Codes which is known as SWIFT-BIC, BIC code, SWIFT ID or SWIFT code.  The ISO 9362 is approved by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)

ISO, the International Organization for Standardization develop and publish International Standards. The standards give world-class specifications for products, services and systems, to ensure quality, safety and efficiency. They are instrumental in facilitating international trade.


The Growth of SWIFT

SWIFT Sibos Event 1 1024x683
SWIFT Sibos Event

In 1980, Hong Kong and Singapore started live operations, and by 1983 more than 1,000 users from 52 countries were using SWIFT services.  The same year, the connection was made to central banks and established itself as the common link between all parties in the financial industry.

In 1987, the messaging services and user base was introduced into the securities market.

More about SWIFT: About SWIFT

Visit Website: SWIFT


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