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A SWIFT code - also known as a SWIFT number is a standard format to uniquely identify all banks and financial institutions across the world. The SWIFT code is a standard format for Business Identifier Codes - commonly referred to as a BIC.
If you transfer money across international lines you almost always need to use a SWIFT code, as it’s the way banks, financial institutions and money transfer services figure out where the money needs to go. You can think of a SWIFT/BIC code a bit like an international postal code. A bank on one side of the world finds the right bank on the other side of the world. Just like sending mail to an incorrect ZIP/postal code means it could get returned, the same goes for your money and an incorrect SWIFT code.
A SWIFT code can be either 8 or 11 characters long:
AAAA BB CC DDD
There are 2 types of SWIFT code: live and passive. Live codes are for banks who are connected to the SWIFT network while passive Codes are used for manual transactions. Passive SWIFT codes will have a 1 as the second digit of the 2 character location code.
SWIFT code registrations and management are the responsibility of "Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication" (“SWIFT”) which is located in La Hulpe, Belgium.
SWIFT is the registered trademark of S.W.I.F.T. SCRL with a registered address at Avenue Adèle 1, B-1310 La Hulpe, Belgium.