union-imgcross icon
skuad logo

Hire, pay and manage your talent in 160+ countries.


We respect your data. By submitting the form, you agree that we will contact you about our products and services, in accordance with our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

What is SWIFT?


dot icon
Updated on:
April 11, 2024
dot icon

Updated on :

April 11, 2024
Hire International Employees at $199
Hire International Employees at $199
Start Hiring Now

Building a remote team?

Employ exceptional talent, anywhere, anytime!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
What is SWIFT?

SWIFT, also known as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, has been a pillar of international banking and financial transactions for decades. SWIFT, which was founded in 1973, has become the backbone of global finance, enabling secure and standardized communication between financial institutions around the globe. In this article, we will examine what SWIFT payment system is, how it operates, its risks and benefits, and how to manage payroll for your globally distributed team.

What does SWIFT mean?

SWIFT is a messaging platform that enables financial institutions to interchange information such as payment instructions and confirmations, securities transactions, and treasury communications in a secure manner. It guarantees the rapid, precise, and secure transmission of these messages, which is essential for preserving the stability and integrity of the global financial system.

Discover how to manage international payroll for your remote team here.

One platform to grow your global team

Hire and pay talent globally, the hassle -free way with Skuad

Talk to an experteor pattern

 Working from home avoids commuting, and fewer commuters result in 

 lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

How does SWIFT work?

SWIFT is a highly secure and dependable messaging system that uses standardized formats for financial messages. The system is designed to guarantee the rapid, precise, and secure transmission of information, which is essential for preserving the stability and integrity of the global financial system. Here is a detailed explanation of how SWIFT operates:

Message Development

When a financial institution initiates a transaction, such as a cross-border payment, it generates a message based on a SWIFT-defined format. The message contains all pertinent information, including the SWIFT codes of the transmitting and receiving institutions, the transaction amount, the currency, and any pertinent instructions.

Encryption and Validation of Messages

The institution sending the message encrypts it for privacy and adds a digital signature to assure its authenticity. Then, SWIFT verifies the message format, verifies the digital signature, and verifies that the sending institution is authorized to transmit the message.

Message Routing 

SWIFT routes the message through its secure network using redundant paths to assure its integrity. Before reaching the intended recipient, the message may travel through a number of intermediary institutions known as correspondents. Each participant in the chain verifies and transmits the message securely.

Decryption and Processing of Messages

The institution that receives the encrypted message decrypts it and verifies the digital signature. Once the message is determined to be genuine, the recipient processes the transaction in accordance with the supplied instructions, such as crediting or debiting the specified accounts.

Confirmation and Accountability

After the transaction has been processed effectively, the receiving institution sends a confirmation message to the sender via the SWIFT network. Then, both parties can update their respective records and generate reports as necessary for regulatory compliance or internal auditing.

What is a SWIFT code?

In the SWIFT network, a SWIFT code identifies an institution, such as a bank. This code is a unique combination of letters and numerals that encapsulates information about its owner.

SWIFT codes are the industry standard for designating financial institutions. Each character in the code provides information about the institution or bank. SWIFT identifiers are also commonly known as Bank Identifier identifiers (BIC).

A SWIFT code consists of eight to eleven characters, which represent the institution's name, country, city, and branch. These characters can be categorized as:

  • The first four characters refer to the institution, bank, etc.
  • Characters 5 and 6 refer to the nation.
  • 7 and 8 are references to the city.
  • If applicable, characters 9 to 11 refer to the branch.

For instance, the Bank of America's SWIFT code is BOFAUS3N. BOFA represents the Bank of America and US represents the United States in this SWIFT code. In this case, 3N refers to the local city of the bank's headquarters, which is New York City.

However, it is possible to conflate SWIFT codes with routing or account numbers, as both sets of characters are utilized in financial transactions. However, they are very distinct types of data, and it is essential to differentiate between them. A routing number is a nine-digit code that designates a specific bank account, whereas a SWIFT code refers to a member of the SWIFT network.

To complete an international transaction using SWIFT, you need the names and addresses of both the recipient and their bank, as well as the SWIFT code and bank account number of the recipient.

When conducting international transactions, it is essential to enter the precise information and SWIFT codes. Failure to comply may result in fines, late payments, late fees, and legal issues.

Advantages of using SWIFT

SWIFT offers numerous advantages to financial institutions that utilize its services. Among the primary advantages of using SWIFT are:

  1. Speed and reliability: Financial institutions can send and receive SWIFT messages in a matter of seconds, making it an expedient method of communication. The SWIFT network is extremely resilient and trustworthy, ensuring that messages are conveyed without delay and without error.
  2. Global reach: The global network of SWIFT ensures that messages can be sent to and received from nearly every financial institution in the world. This makes it an ideal platform for international remittances and trade finance transactions where speed and efficiency are essential.
  3. Secure transaction: SWIFT's messaging platform is highly secure and prevents fraud and cyberattacks. Financial institutions are able to exchange sensitive information and conduct transactions in a secure manner, knowing that messages are protected from interception and modification.
  4. Uniform message format: SWIFT messages adhere to a specific format, ensuring that they are readily understood and processed by financial institutions around the world. This standardization aids in the reduction of costly and time-consuming errors.
  5. Efficient payment processing: SWIFT provides several payment processing solutions that assist financial institutions in streamlining their payment processes. SWIFT's global payments innovation (GPI) initiative, for instance, provides faster and more transparent cross-border payments with real-time monitoring of payment status and confirmation of receipt.

Risks associated with using SWIFT

The use of SWIFT carries with it a number of dangers for financial institutions. Among the most significant hazards of using SWIFT are:

  1. Cybersecurity threats: Financial institutions that utilize SWIFT face a significant risk from cyberattacks. Cybercriminals are capable of breaching network security and gaining access to sensitive data, such as bank account information, transaction history, and personal information.
  2. Fraud risks: Criminals can use SWIFT to engage in illicit activities, including money laundering, terrorist financing, and invoice fraud. It can be difficult to detect fraudulent transactions, which can result in significant financial losses for financial institutions.
  3. Compliance risks: When using SWIFT, financial institutions must adhere to numerous regulations and laws, such as anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CTF) regulations. Noncompliance can result in hefty penalties, legal liabilities, and brand harm.

Discover how to maintain security when your team works remotely here.

Payroll management for your globally distributed team

SWIFT is a revolutionary and trustworthy instrument for international money transfers, but it is not the best option for every business. Without a foreign legal entity, companies cannot use SWIFT wire transfers for global payroll management.

Working with Skuad will assist you in expanding your business internationally in the right manner. Skuad is an all-in-one platform that facilitates the management of international payroll for employees and independent contractors. With Skuad, you can rapidly hire and onboard international employees without a foreign legal entity.

Skuad is a cost-effective, dependable solution for administering your global team. Sending global payments is free with Skuad, and managing global employment begins at just $199 per month.

Discover more about Skuad and how to get started immediately.


Do all US banks use SWIFT?

No, not every bank in the US use SWIFT. However, many banks in the US use SWIFT as it is a globally trusted financial network.

Can banks transfer money without SWIFT?

Yes, banks can transfer money without using SWIFT. Other alternatives are the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), Automated Clearing House (ACH), and Fedwire, among others. However, SWIFT is the most popular and commonly used global payment network.

What happens if a bank doesn't have a SWIFT code?

If a bank does not have a SWIFT code, they may not be able to send or receive international payments. Also they will have limited access to global financial services.

About the author

Nathan Williams is a Global Payroll Specialist and Finance Consultant. With a background in banking and finance, he is passionate about modern tech practices in payroll management and using global payroll platforms for global payments.

Skuad is the best solution to hire and expand globally.

Skuad makes building globally distributed teams, quick and hassle-free.

Request demo
request demo img