How to check a bank account

Find out here how IBAN and BIC/SWIFT codes work to make sure you have the right account number at hand

Bank account numbers, known as Customer Account Codes (CCC), used to be divided up into sections for quick recognition and to prevent errors when copying them. Since 2014, however, the IBAN has replaced the standardized Customer Account Code. So, to check a bank account, it's advisable to learn to read this European code and understand how it's broken down.

Read this article and learn all about the history of the IBAN, how it applies in Europe and its significance for bank accounts since it was introduced. In short, learn how to check a bank account to avoid errors in future transfers.

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CCC and IBAN

Up to 2014, Spanish banks used the CCC (standardized customer account code), which was a long twenty-digit number, or SICA code, made up of different identification codes strung together as follows:

  • A 4-digit bank code.
  • A 4-digit branch code identifying the branch where the account was opened.
  • A 2-figure check digit.
  • The 10-digit account number.

In other words: 1234 1234 00 1234567890

This structure, however, was modified by the IBAN, an alphanumerical code used across Europe to identify bank accounts, although using slightly different criteria.

The word IBAN is an acronym for International Bank Account Number and corresponds to the standard EBS204 enacted by the European Committee of Banking Standards to standardize the bank accounts system in Europe.

The IBAN code is used in SEPA countries (Single Euro Payments Area), which includes both European Union member states and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Monaco.

And, with the IBAN, EU member states don't just share a similar code, but they can also ensure proper data transmission. The code itself has a differing number of digits in each country, but its configuration has meant that there is now a unit that makes EU trading and transfers easier.

In effect, the number of digits in the IBAN code varies from country to country, with 30 digits in Malta, for instance, and just 12 in Belgium. Spain is somewhere in the middle, with 24 digits. The 24 characters making up the alphanumeric code of the IBAN can be broken down as follows:

  • 2 initial letters, ES, to indicate that the account is from Spain.
  • 2 figures or control digits.
  • 4 digits corresponding to the code of the financial entity.
  • 4 digits to show the code of the branch where the account was opened.
  • 2 digits of a new control code to validate the account number (this is a mathematical algorithm).
  • The 10-digit account number.

In other words: ES12 12 1234 1234 00 1234567890

The unification of IBAN codes in Europe, therefore, has meant a longer code than the formerly used CCC. However, with a little bit of patience, the old numbers can be tracked easily in the new IBAN codes since, in a way, they are still part of the new code. This option was kept when the account numbers were converted in order to avoid having to open billions of accounts all over Europe to meet the new mandate.

So, how can you check a bank account? By ensuring that the numbers and the parts of the code correspond with the aforementioned criteria. There is, however, an added way to avoid transfers getting lost, and that's the SWIFT code.

BIC or SWIFT

To be able to check a bank account, apart from the IBAN, there is another code: the BIC or SWIFT. This code is made up of a series of digits that define the specific branch that the account is connected to. Its usefulness comes in mostly when carrying out transfers outside the European Union, where the information contained in the IBAN is sometimes not enough. In fact, the name "SWIFT" comes from the English entity Society for World Interbank financial Telecommunication, an international banking society that dates back to 1973 and which has more than 9,000 members all over the world.

The alphanumeric SWIFT code, also known as BIC (Bank Identifier Code), is an eight or eleven-digit code that is broken down as follows:

  • Name of the bank, for instance, BBVA.
  • Country code, in this case, ES for Spain.
  • Province code, for instance MM for Madrid.
  • Branch code.

Meaning, a branch of BBVA in Madrid, for instance, will have the following code: BBVAESMM123

Among other advantages, this code allows an encrypted message to be issued by the issuing bank to the receiving bank notifying them that a transfer will be received by their customer and allowing them to ensure the transfer is successful.

In short, there are different ways of checking a bank account, but they all involve a detailed analysis of the IBAN code. This, together with the SWIFT, guarantees that transfers make it to their destination.

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Transfers with BBVA

Do you do international transfers often? Do you wire money frequently? Either way, you can use the BBVA app to manage your frequently used transfers and create an address book with the IBAN codes for the people or companies you frequently make transfers to.

Organizing your details will be as easy as logging on to the app from any device with an internet connection, for example from your phone and, in the transfers section, you can organize them like keeping an address book. Ordering your customized site like this will also avoid you having to check your frequent bank accounts repeatedly and, what's more, it will prevent errors that can arise from having to type in the 24 digits each time you want to make a transfer.

Also, remember, with BBVA you can get free transfers(1) if you meet the requirements of the Adiós Comisiones program, so with a BBVA account you won't just have tools that make your life easier, you won't pay extra for them either!

(1) At bbva.es you pay no fees on your transfers in euros, Swedish krona (SEK), or Romanian leu (RON) when performed within the European Economic Area (member states of the European Union + Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). Excludes electronic transfers, emergency transfers, Fund Movement Orders (FMOs), Value Day transfers, and instant transfers. For transfers which are not included, accompanying expenses and transfer fees established for these purposes do apply.
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