Last editedJan 20222 min read
Whether you wish to send or receive a bank payment, you may be asked for a series of numbers depending on the region. Global banking is seemingly filled with acronyms, from IBAN to SWIFT and BIC. But what is a bank routing number, or BRN, and how does it compare to these other terms? We’ll define these acronyms below.
Bank routing numbers explained
A bank routing number (BRN) is a nine-digit number used by American banks as an identification code. Also called a routing transit number (RTN), the BRN tells the bank where your currency needs to go when it’s transferred from one account to the next. You’ll need a BRN anytime you complete a transaction involving an American bank account, whether it’s accepting payment from an American customer or sending payment to a US-based supplier. It helps networks like the Federal Reserve and Automated Clearing House process electronic transfers, direct deposits, and other payments by ensuring the funds go to the right bank.
Those with a US bank account can find the BRN listed on the bottom left side of any paper cheque, next to the account number. It’s also listed in your online banking details. Unlike account numbers, bank routing numbers aren’t issued individually, nor are they confidential. They merely correspond to the bank, so you can also access them by phoning up the bank branch or with a quick Google search online.
Here’s what the nine digits mean:
First four characters show the Federal Reserve routing number
Next four characters show the financial institution identifying number
Final character is the cheque digit
What are SWIFT and BIC codes?
SWIFT or BIC codes are used for international money transfers, specifying the bank and country involved. SWIFT codes are universally used across the world, in comparison to IBANs and BRNs which are more location specific. SWIFT stands for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, while BIC stands for Business Identifier Codes. Your SWIFT/BIC code will be either eight or eleven characters:
First four characters show the bank code
Next two characters show the country code
Next two characters show the location code
Final three characters show the branch code
What is an IBAN?
An IBAN stands for International Bank Account Number. It’s more specific with up to 34 characters, identifying the specific bank account that financial institutions should deposit the money into. It’s primarily used in Europe, the Caribbean, North Africa, and the Middle Eastern regions of the world alongside the SWIFT or BIC code. You can use IBAN to process international payments quickly and automatically, provided your transfer takes place between countries using the IBAN system.
Here’s how an IBAN breaks down:
First two characters are a country code
Next two characters provide cheque digits
Remainder of characters show the bank account number
Bank routing number UK vs US bank routing number
We’ve mentioned how a US bank routing number works above, but what about a bank routing number UK? You only need a BRN when you’re sending or receiving payments involving a US bank account. For international transfers, you’ll also need the appropriate SWIFT or IBAN code.
The equivalent of a bank routing number within the UK is a sort code. This is used by British banks for domestic transfers, consisting of six digits used to identify the account’s specific bank and branch. You’ll need to provide both your account number and sort code for direct debit payments or other domestic transfers.
All bank transfers, domestic and international, require the right codes for processing. By learning how to recognise these various bank acronyms, you’ll have all the information needed to send and receive money into the correct account.
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