The technical standard in SEPA
SEPA payments are processed on the basis of the respective current versions of the European Payments Council documentation (Rulebooks and Implementation Guidelines).
The European banking industry developed the SEPA payment instruments as XML message formats based on the global ISO 20022 standard. In future, this uniform technical standard will form the basis for the interoperability of payment service providers and payment infrastructures and enables a fully automated settlement of payments in the SEPA area.
In a significant departure from the previous domestic procedures, the payer and the payee (as well as their payment service providers) are to be identified by IBAN and BIC, and not by the domestic bank sort code and account number.
IBAN is short for International Bank Account Number, and is a standardised International bank/account number for domestic and cross-border payments. It consists of a maximum of 34 digits, which can be used differently depending on the country. Only the first four digits are fixed.
In Germany, the IBAN has 22 digits. The first two digits are the country code (DE for Germany). This is followed by a two-character check digit, then the eight-digit bank sort code of the account-holding payment service provider (in this case 370 400 44) as well as the account number which may consist of up to ten digits, depending on the payment service provider. Account numbers which consist of less than ten digits are filled out to ten digits, by using left-aligned zeros, for example.
Bank customers can find their IBAN on their bank statements. The German banking industry has various automated solutions in place for changing the account data relating to account numbers and bank sort codes in use today in German payment transactions into the internationally used IBAN and BIC, eg the internet-based IBAN conversion service (available in German only).
The BIC (Bank Identifier Code) is a payment service provider's international bank sort code. It consists of a maximum of 11 digits, and is often called the SWIFT code.
The first four digits corresponding to the bank name are alphanumeric and can be freely chosen (eg Deutsche Bundesbank: MARK). This is followed by the country code, which corresponds to the ISO code of the respective country. It consists of two digits (eg DE for Germany). This is then followed by the two-digit location code (eg FF for Frankfurt am Main). The last three spaces can be used for a branch code (eg XXX) and can be freely chosen. They can also remain empty. The official BIC directory can be found on the SWIFT website.
Search SWIFT codes by country name
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IBAN and BIC
The International Bank Account Number (IBAN) and the Business Identifier Code (BIC) allow the identification of any account in the 33 Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) countries. These technical standards were developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The IBAN is ISO standard 13616; the BIC is ISO standard 9362. For more information see www.iso.org. The European Payments Council (EPC) video animation 'IBAN - Your New Best Friend' (see links below) demonstrates how easy it is to use IBAN and BIC when making payments.
SEPA Regulation defines use of IBAN and BIC by payers and payees
In February 2012, the European legislator adopted the 'Regulation (EU) No 260/2012 establishing technical and business requirements for credit transfers and direct debits in euro and amending Regulation (EC) No 924/2009' (see below) (the SEPA Regulation), which defines 1 February 2014 as the deadline in the euro area for compliance with the core provisions of this Regulation. In non euro countries, the deadline will be 31 October 2016. For more information on the SEPA Regulation, refer to this dedicated page on the EPC Website: SEPA Legal and Regulatory Framework.
The SEPA Regulation details, among other things, the use of IBAN and BIC by payers and payees. A payee accepting credit transfers must communicate the IBAN of the account to which the payment should be credited and the BIC of its payment service provider (PSP) "but only where necessary", to its business partners (see Article 5 (4) and point (1) (a) of the Annex to the Regulation). A payer wishing to make a payment by direct debit must communicate the IBAN of the account which should be debited and the BIC of its PSP "but only where necessary", to the payee (see Article 5 (5) and point (1) (a) of the Annex to the Regulation).
SEPA Regulation: timelines for application of 'IBAN only' rule
The SEPA Regulation stipulates the timelines for application of the so-called 'IBAN only' rule. This provision is relevant for both PSPs and payment service users (PSUs). Article 5 (7) of the SEPA Regulation states: "After 1 February 2014 for national payment transactions and after 1 February 2016 for cross-border payment transactions, PSPs shall not require PSUs to indicate the BIC of the PSP of a payer or of the PSP of a payee." Article 16 (6) however provides EU Member States with the option to defer application of the 'IBAN only' rule for national transactions to 1 February 2016. Information on transitional arrangements in EU Member States permissible under the SEPA Regulation is published by the European Commission and the European Central Bank (see links below).
For additional comment on the provisions regarding IBAN and BIC introduced with the SEPA Regulation, refer to the EPC Blog 'Part II - Get Ready for SEPA by February 2014. Early Movers on the Customer Side Share Lessons Learnt. Why IBAN and BIC Remain Important for Bank Customers' (see links below).
Conclusions agreed at multi-stakeholder workshop to discuss minimum requirements for cross-border 'BIC from IBAN derivation' solutions (September 2013)
The 'IBAN only' rule introduced on the basis of Article 5 (7) of the SEPA Regulation (see above) prohibits PSPs to require that PSUs provide the BIC. PSPs however, will have to continue to indicate the BIC of the account to be debited or credited when processing a SEPA payment transaction in the interbank space. An internal survey carried out by the EPC at the end of 2012 indicated that no mature solution seemed to be in place which allows deriving the BIC from any IBAN with regard to cross-border SEPA transactions. In the Summer of 2013, the EPC reached out to all stakeholders via the EPC Newsletter (see links below) and other EPC communication platforms to indicate whether there would be interest to initiate a dialogue on the minimum requirements for cross-border ‘BIC from IBAN derivation’ solutions. Subject to sufficient interest being expressed by both the demand and the supply sides in SEPA, the EPC offered to host a related workshop open to all interested parties. This workshop with more than 50 participants representing solution providers, corporate payment service users, national central banks, the European Central Bank, the European Commission and PSPs took place on 24 September 2013. For further information on the topics discussed during this workshop and the agreed next steps, please refer to the workshop summary (EPC291-13) included with the links below.
SEPA Regulation: option for use of national account identifiers until 1 February 2016
Article 2 (14) of the SEPA Regulation defines Basic Bank Account Number (BBAN) as follows: "BBAN means a payment account number identifier, which unambiguously identifies an individual payment account with a PSP in a Member State and which can only be used for national payment transactions while the same payment account is identified by IBAN for cross-border payment transactions." Article 16 (1) states that EU Member States may "allow PSPs to provide PSUs, until 1 February 2016, with conversion services for national payment transactions enabling PSUs that are consumers to continue using BBAN" instead of the IBAN. Information on transitional arrangements in EU Member States permissible under the SEPA Regulation is published by the European Commission and the European Central Bank (see links below).
IBAN and BIC for consumers
Banks, businesses and public administrations provide the tools to ensure a smooth transition to IBAN and BIC for consumers.
IBAN and BIC for billers
Businesses and public administrations, i.e. billers, should take the following actions:
Useful IBAN links for billers
Disclaimer: External links are provided for information only. The EPC takes no responsibility for their content.
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