Payment Routing

Payment routing has evolved differently in each country which has meant international standards have had to adapt to ways of accommodating these differences.   In most countries, payments will be routed via a combination, of country code, Bank and Account identifiers.   Whilst not a definitive guide, the following sets out the most common formats.



Each Country has its own standard for Bank and Bank account identification.  The Basic Bank Account Number (BBAN) format accommodates these variations and therefore differs in its construction and length depending upon that country’s own standards.   It can range in length up to a maximum of 30 characters.

In the UK it consists of eighteen characters:  A four character Bank Code, six digit Branch Sort Code and eight digit Account Number.   An industry sort code database which is utilised by Banks and the Payment Systems is maintained by the industry operator Vocalink.   Whilst the sort code directory is not directly accessible to the public, it is possible to verify whether a sort code is correct via the Faster Payments Sort Code Checker.



The International Bank Account Number (IBAN) is a BBAN preceded by four characters.   The first two represents the Country Code (as per ISO 3166) and the second two is used for a verification checksum number.   SWIFT maintains an International IBAN registry containing all ISO 13616 compliant national IBAN formats which can be accessed here.   This sets out each of the formats that subscribing countries use for their BBAN and IBANs.   If you wish to verify whether an IBAN is valid, this can be done via the’s IBAN Checker.



Not all countries use the IBAN format.   As such, an alternative routing mechanism is available via the use of SWIFT BICs (Bank Identifier Codes).    These are either eight characters or eleven characters long code and consist of a four character Bank Identifier Code, a two character Country Code, a two character Location Code and (optionally) a three character branch code.   A payment instruction would then normally consist of a BIC and BBAN as a means of identifying a destination or originating account.

SWIFT provides an online BIC search which can be accessed here