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How Long Do SWIFT Payments Take? Insights From 1,000 Payments [2nd Edition]

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Bertrand Théaud
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7 minute read
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What's New in This Edition?

Our second edition delves deeper into international transactions, expanding our analysis to 1,000 SWIFT payments. This broader dataset brings to light fresh insights, reinforcing our commitment to offering business owners the most accurate and actionable data. We unveil notable improvements in processing times, detail the complex role of intermediary banks, and analyze the patterns of when SWIFT payments are typically made and processed. 

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How long do SWIFT Payments take?

Updated Processing Times: On average, SWIFT payments generally take 16 hours, an improvement from the previously reported 20 hours.

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Role of Intermediary Banks: Approximately 75% of transfers involve intermediary banks. Yet, our findings show that this does not necessarily prolong transfer times, which now average 15 hours, 4 minutes, and 3 seconds.

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Currency and Timing Considerations: USD transfers take longer, and EUR transfers are much quicker. Most transfers occur on Thursdays and Fridays, so making a transfer on the right day is key to avoiding delays.

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Additionally, our analysis reveals a variety of controllable and uncontrollable factors that influence SWIFT transfer speeds:

The laws and regulations of the countries involved in a SWIFT transfer play a significant role in determining how quickly the transfer can be completed.

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Ensuring accurate information in the transfer instructions is critical, as errors can lead to delays or failed transfers. SWIFT transfers are reliant on the precision of provided details.

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Differences in technology and infrastructure among banks, especially intermediaries, can affect the efficiency and speed of cross-border SWIFT transfers.

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Despite the large number of cross-border payments being made daily, many people use SWIFT payments without fully understanding how it works and who is involved. 

As a prominent payment services provider in Hong Kong, we often get asked, “How long does it take for an outgoing payment to be completed?.” 

This highlights a common need for more payment transparency in our industry.

To shed light on this issue and offer businesses greater clarity, we have conducted an internal analysis of 1,000 outgoing payments to understand exactly how long it takes to transfer money. 

To give you some background about us, Statrys is a payment solutions provider with an MSO license in Hong Kong. We were founded in 2018 with the goal of developing the most functional payment services on the market while putting people first with personalised support. 

We now serve over 3,500 businesses and have processed over two billion dollars through our platform. 

Without any further delay, let us get right into it!


What is a SWIFT Payment?

A SWIFT payment, also commonly known as a SWIFT transfer, is a form of international money transfer facilitated by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). It involves a message containing payment instructions sent from one bank to another. 

These banks can be in different countries, and the payment typically follows a secure and standardized process. Not all SWIFT payments are simple one-to-one transactions; sometimes, intermediary or correspondent banks may also be involved, which can affect both the time and cost associated with the transfer. 

Understanding the mechanics of SWIFT payments can provide valuable insights into the duration of these transactions, which is precisely what we're exploring in this article.

💡Tip: Learn more about SWIFT and BIC Codes and why they matter in our article. 

A logo of SWIFT

The SWIFT Network Operational Framework

Before moving to processing time, let’s first understand the basics of the SWIFT network and how banks interact with it. 

This interaction largely determines the efficiency of the payment process.

Here's a breakdown of the key participants:

  • The Payer: The individual or entity initiating the payment.
  • Payer's Bank: The bank from which the payment originates.
  • The Receiver: The person or company receiving the funds.
  • Receiver's Bank: The bank where the funds are deposited.

Plus, Correspondent Banks or Intermediary banks play a significant role. They act as middlemen, helping to move funds between banks from different countries or dealing with different currencies.

For smooth and safe communication between banks, the SWIFT system uses specific messages, such as:

  • MT103: A message from the payer’s bank to the receiver's bank.
  • MT202: A message that goes from the payer’s bank to intermediary banks, ensuring funds reach the right destination.
  • MT910: A confirmation message indicating a successful credit transfer.

A graphic showing how SWIFT messages move across banks.

Consequences of Delayed SWIFT Payments

Below are potential challenges businesses face due to delayed payments.

Below are potential challenges businesses face due to delayed payments.

Cash Flow Instability: Every business, particularly smaller ones, needs a steady cash flow to handle expenses and costs. Thus, when payments are delayed, it affects the capability to manage finances and pay bills on time.

Missed Business Opportunities: In some sectors, businesses need to pay faster to secure a deal. Therefore, faster payments lead to better opportunities.

Difficulties in Sealing the Global Trade Deal: Timely payments are often required to start shipping from international suppliers. Sometimes, the supplier will only ship your orders if they receive at least a partial, if not full, payment upfront.

Extra Costs: No one likes unexpected costs. However, businesses may face additional fees or lawsuits for not fulfilling their side of a contract on time.

Financial Instability Concerns: Some businesses run on slim profit margins, meaning they don’t have much extra money. If payments don't come in predictably, they may need to take out loans to keep things running.

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Our Methodology

We analyzed 1,000 specific SWIFT transactions on our platform to gain insights into payment processing times. Here's how we approached our study:

1. Sample Size: We studied 1,000 outgoing SWIFT payments.

2. Data Collection: We tracked how long each payment took, from when it started to when it reached its destination. Additionally, we observed if intermediary banks played a role in any transaction.

3. Source of Payments: The data was sourced from Statrys' international clients over half a year, ensuring a diverse representation.

4. Currency Breakdown: We looked into payments in various currencies:

  • US Dollars: 410 payments
  • Euros: 210 payments
  • Great British Pounds: 170 payments
  • Japanese Yens: 65 payments
  • Swiss Francs: 55 payments
  • Canadian Dollars: 45 payments
  • Australian Dollars: 45 payments

5. Geographical Scope:

These 1,000 transactions had destinations in 54 countries, spanning six continents.

Our goal was to analyze the data and provide a comprehensive view, which would aid businesses in understanding and predicting SWIFT payment times better.




General Timing

Our analysis of 1,000 SWIFT payments reveals that the average processing time was 16h 53m 35s

Notably, 63% of these payments, specifically 631 out of 1,000, were processed and received within the same day, highlighting efficiency in many transactions.



Currency Matters

Diving deeper into the payment processing durations segmented by currency:

  • USD payments showcased a longer average processing time of 18 hours, 14 minutes, and 57 seconds.
  • GBP transactions were quicker, averaging 5 hours, 23 minutes, and 42 seconds.
  • On the other hand, payments in Euros demonstrated a quicker average duration of 11 hours, 6 minutes, and 36 seconds.



The Role of Intermediary Banks

Our second edition reveals a consistent trend regarding the role of intermediary banks in SWIFT payments, 

In our latest study,  745 transactions involved at least one intermediary bank. Most of the USD payments, accounting for 403 transactions, necessitated a routing through J.P. Morgan Chase Bank in the US, irrespective of the final destination.

This reiterates the critical role of J.P. Morgan Chase Bank in facilitating USD payments, which is likely due to its market dominance. As a major clearer for these transactions, JP Morgan Chase benefits from size, global reach, expertise, Federal Reserve access, risk capabilities, and strong industry relationships. Their standing as a foremost US bank enables them to facilitate USD transfers worldwide reliably.

Our data from both editions indicates that most payments require only one intermediary, with only a small number requiring two or more. On average, SWIFT payment involves 1.12 intermediaries, peaking at 4 for some.

Contrary to what many might expect, the data shows that intermediary banks do not adversely affect transaction speed.

 In fact, payments involving intermediaries averaged 15 hours, 4 minutes, and 3 seconds. In stark contrast, transactions bypassing intermediaries took a longer 24 hours, 53 minutes, and 48 seconds.


Patterns in Payment Timing

In our ongoing analysis of SWIFT payment timings, we've observed a notable shift in the pattern of transactions. While the first edition of our study highlighted that SWIFT payments predominantly occurred on Tuesdays and Thursdays, our expanded analysis reveals a new trend.

Currently, most SWIFT payments are made and processed during workdays, particularly peaking on Thursdays and Fridays. This evolution in payment timing underscores the dynamic nature of global financial transactions and the importance of staying informed about these trends for optimal payment planning.

Despite a trend towards weekday transactions, a few transactions occurring over weekends or holidays understandably took longer

Our study identifies variances in payment processing times across countries, echoing findings from our first edition.

For instance, payments to France, Canada, the US, and the UK are consistently processed in less than 10 hours on average, while SWIFT payments to Japan, India, and the UAE are often subject to longer processing times, exceeding 40 hours in many cases

We will delve into this topic further in the next section.


Based on these findings, it’s evident that several factors can influence processing times, making it essential for businesses to understand the dynamics at play.

Payment-related Factors

Payment Information Details

SWIFT transactions are instructions from a payer's bank to a receiving bank to transfer funds to a beneficiary. This underscores the imperativeness of accurate input from the sender. 

Information like the receiver's bank account name, bank account number, the receiver bank's BIC code, and corresponding address is paramount in ensuring transactional fluidity. Other essential details include the transfer amount, the currency, and references.

Operational Timing and Local Constraints

SWIFT payments are quickly processed on business days, meaning delays occur on weekends and holidays. For example, one payment was sent over Christmas in our sample, taking 5 days to be processed and received. Transactions can be submitted anytime, but bank account balances are updated only during certain hours. This may delay cross-border payments, especially with time differences.

The Payment Currency

The payment currency can determine processing durations. For example, US dollar transactions were notably swifter than their Euro or Swiss Franc counterparts, largely due to the efficient clearing systems in the US before reaching the recipient.

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Country and Regulatory Influences

Regulatory Compliance Checks

Cross-border payments undergo strict compliance checks to prevent illegal activities such as money laundering and terrorism support. Although necessary to preserve financial integrity, payment process delays may result from these checks. Compliance checks must meet specific requirements set by each country, and their execution can be costly and disruptive to automated systems. A payment may be rejected or require manual intervention if it violates regulations.

Country-Specific Capital Control

Jurisdictions differ in their foreign exchange and transactional regulations, which can significantly impact payment processing times. For instance, we found that SWIFT payments in India had an average processing time of over 70 hours. This can be since all FX transactions are subject to specific permission from the Reserve Bank of India.


Technological and Infrastructural Dimensions

Technology Legacy

Although many financial institutions and market infrastructures have progressed in modernizing their systems, some that handle cross-border payments still need help. Issues like batch processing, limited real-time monitoring, and lower data handling abilities can hinder smooth international transactions. These older systems also make adopting newer business strategies and technologies harder.

Size and Capabilities of Financial Institutions

Larger institutions often wield an advantage in transaction processing times. Large banks typically have more resources, which allows them to handle more transactions in a given time. They may also require fewer intermediary banks and have formats and processes that align better with international standards, resulting in faster payments. Additionally, larger banks are more efficient and better equipped to manage complex and evolving regulations.

An illustration of a conveyer belt with some bills


Ensure Accurate Payment Information Details

Ensure the recipient's bank information, such as SWIFT/BIC code, payment purpose, transfer amount, and available funds, is accurate. Remember, some banks might ask for the sender's ID. Correct details mean efficient payments.

Mind the Transaction Currency:

Businesses need to be aware of the varying processing times for different currencies when time is a crucial factor in payment. For example, USD and GBP are generally faster than EUR or CHF.

Consider Domestic Alternatives:

Consider domestic payment methods for in-country transactions. They can be both quicker and cheaper. For instance, instead of a 16-hour SWIFT payment, local methods like FPS in Hong Kong, SEPA in Europe, Faster Payments in the UK, and ACH in the United States.

Choose wisely the day to make the payment:

Our research suggests that Tuesday is the most optimal day for transfers, while Thursdays and Fridays are the busiest. It is recommended to avoid transferring on weekends and holidays to ensure faster processing.



In Conclusion

The analysis of 1,000 SWIFT payments over six months showed an average processing time of about 16 hours. The study emphasizes the role of currency type, specific country policies, and payment timing in SWIFT transactions. Interestingly, intermediary banks don't significantly impact the transaction speed to the beneficiary's account.

With this knowledge, businesses can optimize their procedures for more punctual and economical transactions.

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