Wire transfer

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Wire transfer, bank transfer or credit transfer, is a method of electronic funds transfer from one person or entity to another. A wire transfer can be made from one bank account to another bank account, or through a transfer of cash at a cash office.


Different wire transfer systems and operators provide a variety of options relative to the immediacy and finality of settlement and the cost, value, and volume of transactions. Central bank wire transfer systems, such as the Federal Reserve 's Fedwire system in the United States, are more likely to be real-time gross settlement (RTGS) systems, as they provide the quickest availability of funds. This is because they post the gross (complete) entry against electronic accounts of the wire transfer system operator. [ clarification needed ] Other systems, such as the Clearing House Interbank Payments System (CHIPS), provide net settlement on a periodic basis. More immediate settlement systems tend to process higher monetary value time-critical transactions, have higher transaction costs, and have a smaller volume of payments. A faster settlement process allows less time for currency fluctuations while money is in transit.


The first widely used service for wire transfers was launched by Western Union in 1872 on its existing telegraph network. Once a sender had paid money to one telegraph office, the operator could transmit a message and "wire" the money to another office, using passwords and code books to authorize the release of the funds to a recipient at that location. By 1877 the service was used to transfer almost $2.5 million each year. [1] Because the earliest wire transfers were using telegraph networks, it was termed telegraphic transfer and this name is still used in some countries.


A bank wire transfer is effected as follows:

  1. The entity wishing to do a transfer approaches a bank and gives the bank the order to transfer a certain amount of money. IBAN and BIC codes are given as well so the bank knows where the money needs to be sent.
  2. The sending bank transmits a message, via a secure system (such as SWIFT or Fedwire), to the receiving bank, requesting that it effect payment according to the instructions given.
  3. The message also includes settlement instructions. The actual transfer is not instantaneous: funds may take several hours or even days to move from the sender's account to the receiver's account.
  4. Either the banks involved must hold a reciprocal account with each other, or the payment must be sent to a bank with such an account, a correspondent bank, for further benefit to the ultimate recipient.

Banks collect payment for the service from the sender as well as from the recipient. The sending bank typically collects a fee separate from the funds being transferred, while the receiving bank and intermediary banks through which the transfer travels deduct fees from the money being transferred so that the recipient receives less than what the sender sent.

Regulation and price

Since 2009 the European Union Regulation No 924/2009 [2] [3] controls cross-border payments in the European Union. In the new regulation Article 1 (q.v., Ref.4) states that an IBAN/BIC transfer within Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) must not cost more than a national transfer, no matter which currency is used. The receiving bank can charge for exchanging to local currency.

Prior to this, in 2002 the European Union relegated the regulation of fees a bank may charge for payments in euro between EU member states down to the domestic level, [4] resulting in very low or no fees for electronic transfers within the Eurozone. In 2005, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway joined the EU regulation on electronic transfers. However, this regulation was superseded by the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), consisting of 32 European countries.

In the United States, domestic wire transfers are governed by Federal Regulation J [5] and by Article 4A of the Uniform Commercial Code. [6] US wire transfers can be costly. In 2016, among the 15 largest retail banks, the average fee for an outgoing domestic wire was $25. Incoming domestic wire fees were about evenly split between $0 (free) and $15. [7]

In Australia, money transfers are primarily regulated by ASIC, there is sometimes further regulation by AUSTRAC in industries where money laundering or terrorism financing are a risk; such as money remittance services. Domestic transfers in Australia are generally free to consumers. International transfers can be costly, and banks will often charge a fee between $0 (free) and $20, and an FX margin (the difference between the interbank rate, and the rate that you are charged). Cheaper alternatives to the banks are available from foreign exchange brokers, who usually charge a lower fee and/or margin.


With bank-to-bank wire transfer, each account holder must have a proven identity. Chargebacks are unlikely, although wires can be recalled.[ citation needed ] Information contained in wires are transmitted securely through encrypted communications methods. The price of bank wire transfers varies greatly, depending on the bank and its location; in some countries, the fee associated with the service can be costly.

Wire transfers done through cash offices are essentially anonymous[ citation needed ] and are designed for transfer between persons who trust each other. It is unsafe to send money by wire to an unknown person to collect at a cash office; the receiver of the money may, after collecting it, not provide whatever goods or services they promised in return for the payment, but instead simply disappear. This scam has been used often, [8] especially in the so-called 419 scams which often nominate Western Union for collection.

International transfers involving the United States are subject to monitoring by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which monitors information provided in the text of the wire and then decides whether, according to the US Government's federal regulations [5] [6] and political positions, money is being transferred to terrorist groups, or countries or entities under sanction by the United States government. If a financial institution suspects that funds are being sent from or to one of these entities, it must block the transfer and freeze the funds. [9]

SWIFT or IBAN wire transfers are not completely free of vulnerabilities. Every intermediary bank that handles a wire transaction can take a fee directly out of the wire payload (the assets being transferred) without the account holder's knowledge or consent. In many places, there is no legislation or technical means to protect customers from this practice. If bank S is the sending bank (or brokerage), and bank R is the receiving bank (or brokerage), and banks I1, I2 and I3 are intermediary banks, the client may only have a contract with bank S and/or R, but banks I1, I2 and I3 can (and often do) take money from the wire without any direct arrangement with the client. Clients are sometimes taken by surprise when less money arrives at bank R. Contrast this with cheques, where the amount transferred is guaranteed in full, and fees (if there are any) can be charged only at endpoint banks.

The European Union offers some partial protection from this practice by prohibiting European intermediary banks from taking a fee out of the amount being transferred, even for transatlantic transfers.[ citation needed ] However, it's still common practice for a European brokerage firm to state that they charge no transfer fee, and then contact their bank to take an unpublished fee from the amount transferred as a means to compensate their bank with their clients' assetse.g., CMC Markets implements this policy in partnership with NatWest.[ citation needed ]


Retail money transfers

One of the largest companies that offer wire transfer is Western Union, which allows individuals to transfer or receive money without an account with Western Union or any financial institution. [10] Concern and controversy about Western Union transfers have increased in recent years, because of the increased monitoring of money-laundering transactions, as well as concern about terrorist groups using the service, particularly in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Although Western Union keeps information about senders and receivers, some transactions can be done essentially anonymously, for the receiver is not always required to show identification. [11]

There are other companies in this market, like Unity Monetary Services B.V., ACE Money Transfer, RIA Financial Services, MoneyGram and VFX Financial PLC and LCC Money Transfer (both based in Europe) as well as Azimo, Dwolla, TransferGo, TransferWise, and WeWire App.

Another option for consumers and businesses transferring money internationally is to use specialised brokerage houses for their international money transfer needs. [12] Many of these specialised brokerage houses can transfer money at better exchange rates compared to banks, thus saving up to 4%. [13] These providers can offer a range of currency exchange products like Spot Contracts, Forward Contracts and Limit Orders. [14] However, not all such providers are regulated by appropriate government bodies. For example, in the UK, even though such companies are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, not all of them fall under (FCA) scrutiny. [15] Regulators include the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the Financial Transactions Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) in Canada, the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department in China and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the UK. [16]


Most international transfers are executed through SWIFT, a co-operative society founded in 1974 by seven international banks, which operate a global network to facilitate the transfer of financial messages. Using these messages, banks can exchange data for the transfer of funds between financial institutions. SWIFT's headquarters are in La Hulpe, on the outskirts of Brussels, Belgium.

SWIFT also acts as a United Nations–sanctioned international standards body for the creation and maintenance of financial-messaging standards. See SWIFT Standards.

Each financial institution is assigned an ISO 9362 code, also called a Bank Identifier Code (BIC) or SWIFT Code. These codes are generally eight characters long. [17] For example: Deutsche Bank is an international bank with its head office in Frankfurt, Germany, the SWIFT Code for which is DEUTDEFF:

Using an extended code of 11 digits (if the receiving bank has assigned extended codes to branches or to processing areas) allows the payment to be directed to a specific office. For example: DEUTDEFF500 would direct the payment to an office of Deutsche Bank in Bad Homburg. SWIFT deviates slightly from the standard, though, by using position nine for a Logical Terminal ID, making its extended codes 12 digits long. [18]

European banks making transfers within the European Union and within Switzerland also use the International Bank Account Number, or IBAN.

International prepaid cards

International prepaid cards are an alternative way for transferring funds. Companies can provide a debit card for worldwide employees' payments. The recipients don’t need to have a bank account and can use the card in places that a debit card is accepted at point-of-sale or online and may withdraw funds in local currency at an ATM.

United States of America

Banks in the United States use SWIFT to send messages to notify banks in other countries that a payment has been made. Banks use the CHIPS or Fedwire system to actually effect the payment.

Domestic bank-to-bank transfers are conducted through the Fedwire system, which uses the Federal Reserve System and its assignment of ABA routing transit number, which uniquely identify each bank.

Other electronic transfers

Other forms of electronic transfers include, for example, electronic funds transfer system (EFTS). This is the system one uses when one gives one's bank account number and routing information to someone owed money and that party transfers the money from one's account. It is also the system used in some payments made via a bank's online bill payment service. EFTS transfers differ from wire transfers in important legal ways. An EFTS payment is essentially an electronic personal check, whereas a wire transfer is more like an electronic cashier's check.

EFTS transfers are often called "ACH transfers", because they take place through Automated Clearing Houses.

One important way ACH transfers differ from wire transfer is that the recipient can initiate it. There are of course restrictions, but this is the way people often set up automatic bill payment with utility companies, for example.

See also

Related Research Articles

International Bank Account Number Alphanumeric code that uniquely identifies a bank account in any participating country

The International Bank Account Number (IBAN) is an internationally agreed system of identifying bank accounts across national borders to facilitate the communication and processing of cross border transactions with a reduced risk of transcription errors. It was originally adopted by the European Committee for Banking Standards (ECBS) and later as an international standard under ISO 13616:1997. The current standard is ISO 13616:2007, which indicates SWIFT as the formal registrar. Initially developed to facilitate payments within the European Union, it has been implemented by most European countries and numerous countries in other parts of the world, mainly in the Middle East and the Caribbean. As of February 2016, 69 countries were using the IBAN numbering system.

Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication Financial telecommunication network

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), legally S.W.I.F.T. SCRL, provides a network that enables financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions in a secure, standardized and reliable environment. SWIFT also sells software and services to financial institutions, much of it for use on the SWIFTNet network, and ISO 9362. Business Identifier Codes are popularly known as "SWIFT codes".

ISO 9362 defines a standard format of Business Identifier Codes approved by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). It is a unique identification code for both financial and non-financial institutions. The acronym SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. The ISO has designated SWIFT as the BIC registration authority. When assigned to a non-financial institution, the code may also be known as a Business Entity Identifier or BEI. These codes are used when transferring money between banks, particularly for international wire transfers, and also for the exchange of other messages between banks. The codes can sometimes be found on account statements.

Financial services Economic service provided by the finance industry

Financial services are the economic services provided by the finance industry, which encompasses a broad range of businesses that manage money, including credit unions, banks, credit-card companies, insurance companies, accountancy companies, consumer-finance companies, stock brokerages, investment funds, individual managers and some government-sponsored enterprises. Financial services companies are present in all economically developed geographic locations and tend to cluster in local, national, regional and international financial centers such as London, New York City, and Tokyo.

A transaction account, also called a checking account, chequing account, current account, demand deposit account, or share draft account at credit unions, is a deposit account held at a bank or other financial institution. It is available to the account owner "on demand" and is available for frequent and immediate access by the account owner or to others as the account owner may direct. Access may be in a variety of ways, such as cash withdrawals, use of debit cards, cheques (checks) and electronic transfer. In economic terms, the funds held in a transaction account are regarded as liquid funds. In accounting terms they are considered as cash.

Money order payment order for a pre-specified amount of money

A money order is a payment order for a pre-specified amount of money. As it is required that the funds be prepaid for the amount shown on it, it is a more trusted method of payment than a cheque.

A value transfer system refers to any system, mechanism, or network of people that receives money for the purpose of making the funds or an equivalent value payable to a third party in another geographic location, whether or not in the same form.

An informal value transfer system (IVTS) is any system, mechanism, or network of people that receives money for the purpose of making the funds or an equivalent value payable to a third party in another geographic location, whether or not in the same form. Informal value transfers generally take place outside of the conventional banking system through non-bank financial institution or other business entities whose primary business activity may not be the transmission of money. The IVTS transactions occasionally interconnect with formal banking systems, such as through the use of bank accounts held by the IVTS operator.

In the United States, an ABA routing transit number is a nine-digit code printed on the bottom of checks to identify the financial institution on which it was drawn. The American Bankers Association (ABA) developed the system in 1910 to facilitate the sorting, bundling, and delivering paper checks to the drawer's bank for debit to the drawer's account.

A giro transfer, often shortened to giro ,, is a payment transfer from one bank account to another bank account and initiated by the payer, not the payee. The debit card has a similar model. Giros are primarily a European phenomenon; although electronic payment systems such as the Automated Clearing House exist in the United States and Canada, it is not possible to perform third party transfers with them. In the European Union, there is the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) which allows electronic giro or debit card payments in euros to be executed to any euro bank account in the area.

The Australian financial system consists of the arrangements covering the borrowing and lending of funds and the transfer of ownership of financial claims in Australia, comprising:

Digital currency Internet based non-physical currency

Digital currency is a balance or a record stored in a distributed database on the Internet, in an electronic computer database, within digital files or within a stored-value card. Examples of digital currencies include cryptocurrencies, virtual currencies, central bank digital currencies and e-Cash.

ISO 20022 is an ISO standard for electronic data interchange between financial institutions. It describes a metadata repository containing descriptions of messages and business processes, and a maintenance process for the repository content. The standard covers financial information transferred between financial institutions that includes payment transactions, securities trading and settlement information, credit and debit card transactions and other financial information.

A payment system is any system used to settle financial transactions through the transfer of monetary value. This includes the institutions, instruments, people, rules, procedures, standards, and technologies that make its exchange possible. A common type of payment system is called an operational network that links bank accounts and provides for monetary exchange using bank deposits. Some payment systems also include credit mechanisms, which are essentially a different aspect of payment.

Fedwire is a real-time gross settlement funds transfer system operated by the United States Federal Reserve Banks that allows financial institutions to electronically transfer funds between its more than 9,289 participants. Transfers can only be initiated by the sending bank once they receive the proper wiring instructions for the receiving bank. These instructions include: the receiving bank's routing number, account number, name and dollar amount being transferred. This information is submitted to the Federal Reserve via the Fedwire system. Once the instructions are received and processed, the Fed will debit the funds from the sending bank's reserve account and credit the receiving bank's account. Wire transfers sent via Fedwire are completed the same business day, with many being completed instantly.

Electronic funds transfer (EFT) is the electronic transfer of money from one bank account to another, either within a single financial institution or across multiple institutions, via computer-based systems, without the direct intervention of bank staff.

Single Euro Payments Area the Single European Payments Area (SEPA) initiative

The Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) is a payment-integration initiative of the European Union for simplification of bank transfers denominated in euro. As of 2020, there were 36 members in SEPA, consisting of the 27 member states of the European Union, the four member states of the European Free Trade Association, and the United Kingdom. Some countries participate in the technical schemes: Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City.

Alternative payments refers to payment methods that are used as an alternative to credit card payments. Most alternative payment methods address a domestic economy or have been specifically developed for electronic commerce and the payment systems are generally supported and operated by local banks. Each alternative payment method has its own unique application and settlement process, language and currency support, and is subject to domestic rules and regulations.

TransferWise is a London-based online money transfer service founded in January 2011 by Estonians Kristo Käärmann and Taavet Hinrikus.

Cross-Border Inter-Bank Payments System

The Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS) is a payment system which offers clearing and settlement services for its participants in cross-border RMB payments and trade. It is a significant financial market infrastructure in China. As planned, CIPS will be developed in two phases. On 8 October 2015, CIPS went live. The first batch of direct participants includes 19 Chinese and foreign banks which were set up in mainland China and 176 indirect participants which cover 6 continents and 47 countries and regions. On 25 March 2016, CIPS signed an MoU with SWIFT with mutual understanding of deploying SWIFT as a secure, efficient and reliable communication channel for CIPS's connection with SWIFT's members, which would provide a network that enables financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions in a secure, standardised and reliable environment. CIPS is sometimes referred to as the China Interbank Payment System.


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