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What Is a Bank Identifier Code?

A bank identifier code, also known as BIC, is a set of codes which has been developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) with the purpose of identifying banks and their branches. Each bank - together with its corresponding branches - is assigned a unique number that will serve as identification. The bank identifier code is used for various purposes and transactions. In general, however, only the banks and other financial institutions use these numbers on a regular basis. Individual clients rarely have the need to use the bank identifier code.

The bank identifier code is also known as the SWIFT-BIC, BIC code, SWIFT ID, SWIFT CODE, or ISO 9362. The entity responsible for administering the set of codes is the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT - hence the alternative names for the code. The name ISO 9362 refers to the standardized format that the ISO approved.

The BIC can be composed of either 8 characters or 11 characters. These characters are divided as follows:

4 letters represent the bank code or institution code
2 letters represent the country code (following ISO 3166-1 alpha-2)
2 letters or digits represents the location code
3 letters or digits represent the branch code.

The letters or digits representing the branch code are optional; and if the BIC only has 8 characters, it normally means that the bank is the main office.
In rare cases that you need to know the BIC (such as for wire transfers or for PayPal), you can check your bank statement as some banks include this code. Alternatively, you can give the bank a call.

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