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A SWIFT payment is an electronic international transfer method, sending a message that has enclosed payment instructions from a payer or sending bank to a receiving bank.

A direct SWIFT transfer is only possible if the sending and receiving bank have a direct commercial relationship.

The SWIFT network has more than 10,000 members located in more than 200 countries, making it the largest international payment network worldwide.

Based on an analysis of 500 transactions, the average SWIFT payment takes about 20 hours, 7 minutes, and 30 seconds. However, 62% of these payments were processed within the same day, indicating efficiency in many transactions.

Making international payments has become increasingly accessible due to the availability of various financial institutions offering SWIFT payments. This reliable cross-border payment option plays a pivotal role in global financial transactions.

In this article, we will explain what a SWIFT payment is, explore its functionality, and look at some of the fees associated with this type of money transfer.

What Is a SWIFT Payment?

A SWIFT payment is an electronic method used to transfer money across international borders, functioning through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) network.

Established in 1973, the SWIFT network is a collection of banks and financial institutions around the world that provides a secure and standardized platform for the exchange of financial information and transactions.

SWIFT payments are synonymous with SWIFT transfers. But sometimes, you will come across financial institutions that refer to SWIFT transfers as telegraphic transfers (TT) or international wire transfers.

In essence, a SWIFT transfer involves a sending bank (Bank A) issuing a payment order to a receiving bank (Bank B), where the intended recipient’s account is located. Typically, these banks are in different countries.

However, the process isn't always direct. One unique aspect of SWIFT transfers is the potential involvement of multiple SWIFT member banks, known as correspondent or intermediary banks, in completing a single transfer.

This involvement can range from 2-5 member banks across the world, depending on the requirements of the transfer. The inclusion of these additional banks can affect both the cost and timeframe for the transfer, but we will go through this later.

How Does a SWIFT Payment Work?

A SWIFT transfer at the time of set-up is a payment order (message) requested by the sending bank to the receiving bank.

SWIFT requests are usually made on behalf of a personal banking or business customer looking to send money abroad, either in their denominated local currency or into the denominated currency of the country in which the funds are being received.

The actual process of sending money from point A to point B is a back-end process facilitated separately by the member banks involved in any given transfer, but first, let’s see what is needed to facilitate a SWIFT transfer.

How Is Money Moved Using the SWIFT Network?

So, now that we know about the SWIFT messaging system, what does this mean for the actual movement of money using the SWIFT system?

Yes, it is true that no physical money exchanges hands with an initial SWIFT message. The actual movement of money happens later through mirroring ledgers or mirroring accounts known as Nostro/Vostro accounts.

The Use of Nostro/Vostro Accounts in SWIFT Payments

Nostro/Vostro accounts are used when one bank has money deposited in an account opened with another bank for the purpose of executing international transactions. 

What is a Nostro Account?

The Nostro account is the term used by the bank holding money in the account. This is essentially the sending institution requesting a transfer to be made.

What is a Vostro Account?

The Vostro account is the term used by the bank having the account opened in their books but in the denominated currency of the sending bank.

 A direct SWIFT transfer is only possible if the sending and receiving bank have a direct commercial relationship, aka the banks will have Nostro/Vostro accounts set up ready for receiving transfers.

⚠️ Important: But what happens when there isn’t a direct commercial relationship between Bank A and B? This is where those intermediary banks enter the equation.

Let’s look at this commercial/no commercial relationship through two different transfer scenario examples. 

Scenario A – Direct commercial relationship between SWIFT member banks A & B

A US client that banks with Bank of America wants to pay USD 15,000 to your bank account with DBS in Hong Kong. Both banks are members of the SWIFT community, which means payment will be processed using a SWIFT message.

In this scenario, both banks have a direct commercial relationship via a Nostro / Vostro account. This means that a SWIFT message issued by Bank of A will be directly addressed to Bank B, located in a different country, meaning the funds will be transferred directly between the two banks.

sepa nostro vostro

Scenario B – No direct commercial relationship between SWIFT member banks A & B

In this case, SWIFT will determine how to pass the SWIFT message to successive banks, which all have Nostro / Vostro accounts with one another. This will be through using 1 or a series of intermediary banks (also known as correspondent banks) that handle the transfer along its route to its destination.

Intermediary bank

As you can see, the more intermediary banks engaged in the transaction, the higher the fees will be deducted from the paid amount, the longer the payment will take to be credited to an account, and finally, the higher the risk of having the SWIFT message lost.

How to Make a SWIFT Payment

Here's a guide to help you successfully initiate a SWIFT payment.

1.  Prepare and Gather Necessary Information:

  • Recipient's Bank Details: Collect the bank name, address, SWIFT code, and account number of the recipient for accurate fund routing.
  • Payment Amount and Currency: Determine the amount you want to send and in what currency. Ensure accuracy by double-checking exchange rates and any fees.
  • Purpose of Payment: Provide a brief reason for the transfer (e.g., loan repayment, purchase) for compliance purposes.
  • Personal Identification: Be prepared to provide personal ID documents, like a passport or driver's license, depending on your bank’s requirements.
  • Adequate Funds:  Ensure your account has enough money to cover the payment and any fees.
  • Fee Responsibility Codes: Decide who pays the fees with codes like OUR (you pay all fees), BEN (recipient pays all fees), or SHA (costs are shared).

2. Initiate the Transaction:

  • Contact Your Bank and Complete Forms: Reach out to your bank or financial institution and share all the details of the transaction. You'll be required to fill out forms that include information about both the sender (you) and the recipient. Ensure all the details are accurately provided.

3. Make the Payment and Await Confirmation:

  • Provide Payment: Transfer the funds from your account to the designated bank account for SWIFT transfers.
  • Await Confirmation: Once you've initiated the transaction, your bank will confirm the successful transfer. However, this may take anywhere from several hours to a few days, depending on various factors, such as interbank processes and the complexity of the transaction.

📌 Note:  Before initiating a SWIFT transfer, consult your bank for the total transaction cost. This helps avoid surprise expenses and ensures a smoother transfer process.

How Long Do SWIFT Payments Take?

SWIFT transfers usually take between 1 to 5 business days. However, there are instances where delays can occur due to several factors, such as:

  • National holidays in the countries involved in the transfer
  • Incorrect information being provided
  • The involvement of intermediary banks
  • System outages

In some extreme cases, these factors can extend the transfer time to several weeks.

A key advantage of using SWIFT is the ability to trace your transfer within its network. This is done using a proof of payment, known as an MT103 document. If you notice that your transfer is taking longer than expected, you have the option to request a status update. This means you can get detailed information about the current stage of your transfer, helping you understand any delays and predict when it might be completed.

💡Industry insight: Our analysis shows that payment currency affects processing time. For instance, USD payments take approximately 17 hours to process, while EUR payments may take up to 23 hours to reach the recipient's account.

How Much Does SWIFT Payments Cost?

Whether or not a SWIFT transfer is direct or goes through correspondent banks to its destination, SWIFT transfers always have associated fees.

Fees are mainly attributed to bank handling for facilitating a SWIFT message, as in the details outlining sending a transfer and receiving a transfer. If more banks are involved, more handling fees are incurred.

Sometimes, it is possible to pay anywhere from USD 10 to USD 50 for SWIFT financial transactions.

Secondly, fees also come from foreign exchange rate margins derived from the banks involved in a SWIFT transaction.

As SWIFT transfers are cross-border, they need to be converted from the denominated currency of the sending country to the denominated currency in the receiving country.

Finally, there can also be fees incurred if you need to trace, investigate, recover, or cancel a SWIFT transfer after it is initiated. These fees will vary between banks.

💡 Tip: Statrys offers MT103 documents for free, while for many other financial institutions, you will have to pay some fees.

quote

SWIFT payments are a solid choice for international money transfers. While they come with their own set of complexities and expenses, the introduction of SWIFT gpi has greatly improved their speed and transparency. This key enhancement has made SWIFT even more essential for global financial transactions.

Bertrand Theaud
Founder, Statrys
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quote

Q&A

How long does a typical SWIFT payment take?

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Based on an analysis of 500 transactions, the average SWIFT payment takes about 20 hours, 7 minutes, and 30 seconds.

However, 62% of these payments were processed within the same day, indicating efficiency in many transactions.

How do currency types affect SWIFT payment processing times?

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Are there any factors that consistently influence the timing of SWIFT payments?

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What role do intermediary banks play in SWIFT payments?

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What recommendations do you have for businesses to ensure faster and more reliable SWIFT payments?

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💡Tip: Find out which payment method - SWIFT or local transfers fits your business needs.

A dropdown of some supported currencies by the Statrys business account.

What Is a SWIFT Code?

A SWIFT code is a unique identifier that plays a critical role in the secure and accurate routing of international payments. 

The SWIFT network has more than 11,000 members located in over 200 countries, making it the largest international payment network worldwide.

Members of the SWIFT network use SWIFT codes to send money securely between accounts that are located in different countries.

Each SWIFT code consists of standardized information your bank needs to make sure that your money reaches the bank account of your beneficiary safely.

A good analogy to understand the utility of SWIFT codes is to think of zip/postal codes in an address.

If this international postal code is incorrect or missing, any letter sent to this address will never arrive.

The same thing applies if your money is transferred using the wrong SWIFT code.

What Does a SWIFT Code Look Like?

SWIFT codes may be constituted of only a few letters and numbers, but they tell banks within the SWIFT network everything they need to know to execute international payments correctly.

SWIFT Code identifies facilitating international transfers and is often used when sending money internationally.

These codes all follow the same format, they are 8 or 11 characters long. It can be found on your bank statements.

SWIFT codes are made up of 8 or 11 characters and are formatted as follows:

infographic of SWIFT code
  • AAAA - The first 4 characters represent the bank or institution code.
  • BB - The next 2 characters represent the country code where the bank is located.
  • CC - The next 2 characters represent the location code, which can be either a city code or a branch code.
  • DDD - The final 3 characters (optional) represent the branch code of the bank.

Examples of SWIFT Codes in Hong Kong

  • Statrys - STYSHKHH
  • DBS – DHBKHKHH
  • HSBC – HSBCHKHHHKH
  • Standard Chartered – SCBLHKHH
  • Bank of China – BKCHHKHH
  • ICBC – UBHKHKHH
  • Bank of East Asia – BEASHKHH
marketing@statrys.com

💡 Did you know? Bank Identifier Code (BIC) and SWIFT code mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably.

How Do I Find My SWIFT Code?

If you need to find your SWIFT code, there are a few helpful tips to make the process easier. 

  1. Check your bank statement: Normally, banks include your SWIFT code on your account statements, both online and offline.
  2. Check your bank’s website: You can easily find your SWIFT code by visiting the FAQs page or help center.
  3. Contact your bank directly: Reach out to your bank’s customer service via available channels, such as phone, email, and chatbot.

In addition, if you are searching for a SWIFT code to send money to someone else, the simplest way to retrieve their SWIFT code is by using an online SWIFT/BIC tool.

Put in details such as the country, bank, and location, and then the online SWIFT code tool will identify the correct one for you.

To be 100% safe, triple-check the code you have found with the recipient.

You can use one of these tools to verify your codes:

Conclusion

For 50 years, SWIFT has been the leading provider of secure financial messaging services, so using the SWIFT system to make your international transfers might be the most convenient option for you.

For businesses operating in Hong Kong and across Asia, we recommend you consider Statrys.

Statrys is a licensed payment service provider that allows businesses in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the BVI to open multi-currency business accounts that can hold 11 major currencies. Opening an account with Statrys is fast and efficient, with 85% of users opening their accounts in less than 3 days. 

If you own a growing business with clients and partners in Asia, check out our business account to see how Statrys can support you with payment.

Statrys mobile application dashboard showing a total balance in a business account.

FAQs

What does SWIFT mean in banking?

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SWIFT is the acronym for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications network

How long do SWIFT payments take?

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What is a SWIFT transfer?

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What is a BIC/SWIFT code?

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What is the difference between BIC and SWIFT codes?

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