SWIFT vs IBAN: Understanding Their Uses and Limitations

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Global payments are one of the essential activities of any multinational businesses. Most rely on IBAN, SWIFT, or a combination of the two. What exactly are these services, and how do modern fintech platforms enhance them?

Executive Summary:

  • SWIFT and IBAN are commonly used services for making international payments in global payroll management.
  • SWIFT is a messaging network used to identify the bank and branch receiving the payment, while IBAN is used to identify the specific bank account.
  • IBANs are used in over 70 countries, while SWIFT has a global reach with connections to more than 200 countries and territories.
  • Papaya Global’s payroll payments platform, Papaya OS, incorporates both IBAN and SWIFT for enhanced security, compliance, and efficiency in cross-border salary transfers.

As global workforces expand, so do the complexities of worker management, payroll, and payments in every country and locale. This positions global payroll payments in general as an increasingly important ingredient in operations for businesses of all sizes and kinds. As such, organizations are placing increased importance in the security, efficiency, and costs of managing their multinational payroll.

SWIFT and IBAN are the two most commonly used services for making international payments. But what exactly are they, what’s the difference between them, and how can they best be optimized for global payroll payments?

Basic definitions and uses

SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications. It is a messaging network that banks use to send and receive information about financial transactions. IBAN stands for International Bank Account Number. It is a unique identifier for bank accounts in specific countries.

SWIFT and IBAN are both used to make international payments, but they serve different purposes. SWIFT is used to identify the bank and branch that will receive an international payment, while IBAN is used to identify the specific bank account that will receive the payment.

Technical composition

IBANs are 18 to 34 characters long and are made up of the following components:

  • A two-letter country code
  • A check digit
  • A bank code
  • An account number

SWIFT codes are 8 to 11 characters long and are made up of the following components:

  • A four-letter bank code
  • A two-letter country code
  • A branch code (optional)
  • Pros and cons

SWIFT and IBAN have both advantages and disadvantages. For example, SWIFT is a reliable and secure messaging network, but it can be expensive to use. IBAN is a unique identifier that can help to prevent errors and fraud, but it can be difficult to remember and type.

If you are making an international payment to a bank that does not use IBAN, you can still use SWIFT. You will need to provide the recipient’s bank’s SWIFT code, the recipient’s bank name, and the recipient’s account number.

However, it is important to note that using SWIFT without IBAN can increase the risk of errors and fraud. This is because SWIFT does not uniquely identify the recipient’s bank account. As a result, there is a chance that your payment could be sent to the wrong account.

Overall, both IBANs and SWIFT codes are important tools for making international payments. IBANs are more specific and can help to reduce errors and fraud, while SWIFT codes are more widely used and can help to speed up payments.

Here is a more detailed explanation of each criterion:


IBANs are more secure than SWIFT codes because they are unique identifiers for bank accounts in specific countries. SWIFT codes only identify the bank that will receive a payment, but they do not identify the specific bank account. This means that there is a greater risk of errors and fraud when using SWIFT codes. For example, if you mistype a SWIFT code, your payment could be sent to the wrong bank.

IBANs are also more secure because they are more difficult to counterfeit. SWIFT codes can be easily copied and pasted, but IBANs are more complex and require more information to generate.


SWIFT codes are faster than IBANs because they do not require as much information to be processed.


IBANs are more cost-effective than SWIFT codes because they are used by more banks. This means that there is less competition for IBANs, which can lead to lower fees.


IBANs are more regulated than SWIFT codes because they are required by law in some countries. This means that they are subject to more scrutiny and oversight, which can help prevent fraud and other financial crimes.

Bank acceptance

IBANs are more widely accepted than SWIFT codes because they are used by more individual banks, though technically SWIFT is used in more countries. This makes it more likely that your bank will accept an IBAN than a SWIFT code.


SWIFT codes are more difficult to track than IBANs because they do not contain as much information. This can make it more difficult to trace the movement of money.

Geographic coverage of IBAN and SWIFT payments

IBAN is used by banks in over 70 countries, including most European countries, several countries in the Middle East, and various African countries. Additionally, some countries outside of these regions have also implemented the IBAN system, such as Brazil and Kazakhstan.

Notably, IBAN is not accepted in the United States. Bank accounts in the US are identified by their routing number and account number. Routing numbers are nine digits long and identify the bank and branch where the account is held. Account numbers are typically five to eleven digits long and identify the specific account.

More than 200 countries and territories are connected to the SWIFT network. This includes major financial centers such as the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, China, and many others. The SWIFT system has a global reach, enabling international banks and financial institutions to communicate and conduct cross-border payments transactions, efficiently.

The geographical coverage of IBANs and SWIFT codes is constantly changing as new countries adopt these systems.

Modern payroll payment platforms

Papaya Global incorporates both IBAN and SWIFT into its platform, known as Papaya OS, to facilitate cross-border salary transfers for businesses. Papaya’s end-to-end payroll payments platform integrates with the IBAN and SWIFT processes for enhanced security, improved efficiency, full compliance, and ease of use. Papaya’s fast rails, top-shelf security certifications, and partnerships with Tier 1 banks like J.P. Morgan and Citibank provide the ultimate in global payment security and reliability.

Our solution provides payroll e-wallets which you can fund in the currency of your choice (out of 16 currencies), and then pay locally (in 160+ countries) – so there’s no need to open and manage multiple local bank accounts. And unlike everyone else, our solution plans the payment from the land-date and works backwards to determine proper send-date, ensuring payments land on time in your worker’s account – every time, everywhere.

This integrated approach reduces administrative burdens for businesses, enabling them to focus on strategic workforce management.

Businesses win – every time

Papaya Global’s use of IBAN and SWIFT in its cross-border workforce payment solutions addresses the specific needs and challenges of businesses. Our integrated approach combines cutting-edge technology, compliance expertise, and secure payment methods.

With IBAN and SWIFT providing the money movement mechanism, Papaya OS enables a payroll and payments experience that’s always fully secure, compliant, on time, and accurate. And, we provide complete transparency and visibility into the payment process, so you can track your payments at every step and ensure they are being processed correctly.

Want to learn more about Papaya OS? Book a demo today.


What are the advantages of using IBAN over SWIFT?

IBAN offers advantages such as standardized account identification, faster processing, and reduced risk of errors in cross-border payments, whereas SWIFT is a messaging network that ensures secure communication between financial institutions.

How do IBAN and SWIFT affect cross-border payments?

IBAN and SWIFT work together to facilitate cross-border payments: IBAN helps identify recipient bank accounts, while SWIFT ensures secure transmission of payment instructions, enabling efficient and accurate cross-border transactions.

How do we ensure the accuracy of IBAN and SWIFT codes?

To ensure accuracy, it is essential to validate IBAN and SWIFT codes through reliable sources, such as official bank websites or international validation tools, and cross-check them with the recipient’s banking information.

Will IBAN or SWIFT be more cost-effective for our company?

The cost-effectiveness depends on various factors, including the volume and frequency of international payments. IBAN may offer faster processing and potentially lower fees, while SWIFT provides a secure network for communication, but specific pricing details should be obtained from the relevant financial institutions.

Can we use IBAN for SWIFT payments or vice versa?

While IBAN and SWIFT are related, they serve different purposes. IBAN is used to identify recipient bank accounts, while SWIFT is the messaging network that facilitates secure communication. Therefore, IBAN is used alongside SWIFT for cross-border payments, but they are not interchangeable.