Wire transfer vs. bank transfer: What is the difference?

Wire transfer vs. bank transfers
  • Money transfer
  • International payments

What’s the difference between a wire transfer and a bank transfer? At first sight, these terms sound familiar, but the cost factor is significant. While bank transfers allow you to pay like a local, wire transfers require 3-5% transfer fees of the total amount. In this article, we are going to show you the differences and how you can profit from both processes.

What is a wire transfer?

A wire transfer is an electronic transfer of money between two entities via a secure network. In theory, it can refer to both domestic and international money transfers, but wire transfers are much more commonly used for transfers abroad, as local bank transfers are the superior options in terms of time and cost savings.

The term “wire transfer” is often synonymously used for the SWIFT network. If you are a European company conducting business in the US, you most likely have already used the SWIFT network before. SWIFT is a secure network that can be used by banks and payment platforms to enable companies and individuals to conduct payments in most currencies. The problem: SWIFT takes hefty charges, which may vary between 3-5%, depending on the location and business relationship of the sender’s and recipient’s bank.

How does a wire transfer work?

SWIFT enables you to make international payments in almost any currency, while USD, EUR, GBP, CNY and JPY are the top 5 currencies used by the network. Compared to local bank transfers, the money doesn’t flow from one bank to another, but goes through a chain of banks as there is often no direct commercial relationship between the sending and receiving bank. Therefore, similar to flight itineraries, the SWIFT network calculates an itinerary of intermediary banks with direct commercial relations, which the money needs to go through until it reaches the recipient’s bank.

As already mentioned, SWIFT fees can go up to 5% of the transferred amount, which mainly depends on the amount of banks involved. The sender can choose who bears the fees:

  • BEN: The recipient bears all costs, which means the received amount is lessened by the SWIFT fees.
  • SHA: Recipient and sender share the costs.
  • OUR: The sender bears all costs.

For a SWIFT transfer, the sender needs the following information:

  • Recipient’s full name
  • Recipient’s account number
  • Payment reference
  • Recipient bank’s BIC (SWIFT) code (if applicable)
  • Bank’s name (if applicable)
  • Bank’s ABA code (if applicable)

Find out more about how to send money internationally.

What is a bank transfer?

A bank transfer is an electronic money transfer between two banks, sending money directly from one bank account to another. While wire transfers usually refer to the SWIFT network, the term “bank transfer” is commonly used to describe local payment routes, such as ACH or SEPA. Bank transfers are the most popular payment option, particularly among B2B payment methods, as the time and cost factor is usually just a fraction compared to the SWIFT network. The reason why companies and individuals still use wire transfers is because they lack access to local payment schemes.

If you want to profit from the American ACH network, you need a bank account in the US. For European companies, it is virtually impossible to quickly set up a US bank account on their own if they don’t already have a local presence.

How does a bank transfer work?

Bank transfers refer to local payment schemes such as SEPA or ACH, which differ in the payment process, time and transfer costs. As a general rule of thumb, local payment routes are much cheaper compared to the SWIFT network.

ACH payments are so much cheaper compared to SWIFT, as there are only two corresponding banks involved: Originating Financial Depository Institution (ODFI) from the sender (or originator) and the Receiving Financial Depository Institution (RDFI) from the recipient.

If you want to make a transaction through the American ACH network, you can choose between direct deposits (initiated by the payer) to make payments or direct payments (initiated by the recipient) to request funds.

For a small business ACH payment, you need to provide the following information:

  • Bank routing number
  • Account number
  • Account type: Checking or savings
  • Recipient type: Individual or a business

Wire transfer vs bank transfer: Differences

When comparing wire with bank transfers, the first thing to look at are the user scenarios. While SWIFT allows domestic and international transfers, bank transfers are more restrictive and depend on the local payment scheme. ACH is limited to the US, SEPA payments are mainly limited to the Euro area, with a few exceptions.

Speed, costs and risk are the main reasons companies and individuals opt for bank transfers. ACH usually takes 1 business day, while transaction costs can be as low as 1 USD. On the other hand, SWIFT may take several days and involves a hefty fee of 3-5% of the total amount sent. SWIFT payments can’t be disputed, while senders using ACH still have options to reclaim their money in case anything went wrong.

Wire Transfer (e.g. SWIFT)Bank Transfer (e.g. ACH)
Domestic/International PaymentsBoth domestic and internationalACH only allows domestic payments. Other local schemes, such as SEPA, allow international transfers.
Automatic/ManualMainly employees of sending, receiving and intermediary banksMainly automatic
Send/RequestSend fundsSend and request funds
Costs3-5% of the total amount sentFree for the receiver.
Sending fee varies and can be as low as $1
SpeedCan take up to 5 business daysUsually 1 business day
RiskOnce transferred, the funds cannot be disputedOnce transferred, the funds can be disputed

Get access to wire and bank transfers with amnis

With a digital payment platform such as amnis it is possible to make the best of both worlds. With its multi-currency IBAN account, amnis enables your business to send and receive money in over 20 currencies. Even better: When local payment options are available, amnis makes sure you can profit from the most cost-efficient payment solutions.

If there are no local payment schemes available, amnis enables you to pay via the SWIFT network. Therefore, you can make use of both bank and wire transfers and will always find the best option for your monetary needs. Also check out the added convenience of an amnis business debit card for enhanced payment flexibility.

Start your free trial with amnis

Join over 2,000 companies and start receiving and sending money like a local through ACH, UK Faster Payments, SEPA, SIC and more local payment schemes. Open your free multi currency account with amnis in less than 30 seconds to trade with over 20 currencies – no deposit required.

Sabrina Maly
As a marketing manager at amnis I provide SMEs with fx market, international business and news updates on our blog & FAQ page.
Cookie Consent with Real Cookie Banner