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How Long Can a SWIFT Payment Take and Why Can It Get Stuck?

In the world of international banking and finance, SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) plays a crucial role in facilitating secure and efficient cross-border transactions. However, despite its advantages, SWIFT payments can sometimes encounter delays and get stuck in the process. In this article, we will explore the factors that influence the duration of a SWIFT payment and the common reasons why it might experience delays.

How Long Can a SWIFT Payment Take?

The duration of a SWIFT payment can vary depending on several factors, including the participating banks, the countries involved, and any potential issues that may arise during the process. Generally, a SWIFT payment can take anywhere from a few hours to several business days to be completed.

According to official statistics by S.W.I.F.T., nearly 50% of gpi payments are credited to end beneficiaries within 30 minutes, 40% in under 5 minutes, and almost 100% of gpi payments are credited within 24 hours.

To be honest, I doubt about 24 hours. Otherwise, why thousands of people visit TrackMySwift every day to check the status of their payments? However, by my experience, 1-3 business days is normal for funds transfers which do not involve manual checks in correspondent banks and it can take up 1 month if a correspondent bank has decided to do a manual compliance check.

 

Factors Influencing the Duration of SWIFT Payments

Compliance and Regulatory Checks: International transactions are subject to strict compliance and regulatory checks to prevent fraud and money laundering. If a payment triggers any red flags during these checks, it can result in additional verification processes, leading to delays.

So what can trigger those red flags? Not much information is sent over SWIFT. You can take a look at a sample of MT103 form which is the most common type of message to transfer funds in cross-border payments. So any information which potentially violates laws or sanctions can be a reason:

Check the full name of a sender and a beneficiary on the OFAC website. OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) is responsible for maintaining the list of persons under sanctions of the USA. If there is a namesake of a sender or a beneficiary in there, there is a 99% probability banks in the chain will require additional documents to make sure it's a different person.

Depending on the geography, currency involved, and shareholders of the banks, they can follow the sanctions lists of other countries. I use opensanctions.org to get an understanding if the party involved could be under sanctions of the EU, UK, Canada, or other countries.

Correspondent Banks: SWIFT payments often rely on a network of correspondent banks to facilitate cross-border transactions. If there are multiple correspondent banks involved, each bank's processing time can contribute to the overall delay. More banks in the chain, more potential checks and problems. Here is our guide on how to check which correspondent banks are involved in the transaction.

Bank Holidays: The presence of bank holidays in the sender or recipient's country can interrupt the payment process, causing it to be postponed until the next business day.

 

Reasons for SWIFT Payments Getting Stuck

Incomplete or Incorrect Information: Even a minor error in the payment instructions, such as an incorrect account number or beneficiary name, can cause a SWIFT payment to get stuck. In such cases, the receiving bank may need to investigate and resolve the issue, leading to delays.

Lack of Intermediary Relationships: If the sender's bank does not have a direct correspondent relationship with the recipient's bank, the payment may pass through multiple intermediary banks. Delays can occur if these intermediary banks are unable to process the transaction promptly.

Technical Glitches: Like any electronic system, SWIFT is not immune to technical glitches or outages. If there are disruptions in the SWIFT network, payments may get stuck until the issue is resolved.

Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) Procedures: Stringent AML and KYC procedures can cause delays if the payment information raises suspicions or requires additional verification.

 

What Should You Do If Your SWIFT Payment Stuck?

Take MT103 form and check the status of your SWIFT payment. Normally, there are 3 major status codes: ACSP, ACCC and RJCT.

ACCC - means the payment has been credited (delivered). If your payment is in this status, but the beneficiary can't see the funds in the account, the first thing to do is to double check the payment details. If you made a mistake in the account number, the payment can be credited to the special account of the beneficiary's bank for a further investigation. In this case the sender must go to his bank and write an application for a change of the beneficiary's details. Usually those applications are processed within 1 month.

If that's not a case and all beneficiary's details are correct, please ask a beneficiary to visit his bank with MT103 form and all supporting documents (invoice, contract, etc). Most probably the payment is under manual incoming check at the beneficiary's bank and supporting documents could help to speed it up.

Please keep in mind that the status ACCC is the final one in GPI tracking, it won't be any better.

RJCT - is short for “rejected”, you guessed it right. Normally, a payment should return back without any involvement from the sender's side. Sometimes rejected payments could take up to 1 month, because for correspondent banks it is the trigger for a manual check. Why the next bank in the chain has decided to reject it? Is there any AML guidance violation we should worry about?

If the payment has been rejected but not credited to a sender within 1 month, probably it's a good idea to send a recall request by the sender's bank.

The same like with ACCC, RJCT - is the final status in GPI tracking. It won't change to “in progress” or anything else. Often those payments have a new reference number (especially if they were rejected by the beneficiary's bank), so it will be hard to track them even with advanced GPI tracking features in a sender's bank.

ACSP - is short for “accepted, settlement in progress”. Basically a payment has this status through the whole chain until it become ACCC or RJCT. Even if the payment has been fully blocked by OFAC sanctions and require a license, still it is ACSP.

If the payment is in ACSP status for a long time it is a good idea for a beneficiary to visit his bank with MT103 form and supporting documents. If the beneficiary's bank can't locate the payment, most probably it is still in the intermediary banks.

Sender's bank can make a proper advanced GPI tracking print out for you to explain what's going on:

However, not all banks are connected to SWIFT GPI and are ready to help you with your problems. You can try to restore the payment chain manually by using our Payment Route Analysis tool.

You still have 2 options with the sender's bank even if it is not a GPI member. You can ask for a payment investigation or a recall of the payment. Often those services cost ~50 USD.

Correspondent banks are never happy when they are approached by a sender (remitter) or a beneficiary directly. They prefer to work with other banks via official secure SWIFT network. However if your payment takes more than 1 month and both sender's and beneficiary's banks are not helpful, it's probably not the best time to take into consideration correspondent bank's feelings.

Have your MT103 form ready and call them asking wire transfers department (or international payments department if it is a European bank). Explain that you have tried other options - asked sender's bank for an investigation. Don't be rude, try to explain how critical those funds for you.

If phone call doesn't help, send an old-school letter by post. Include MT103 form and all supporting documents you have. Payments stuck often for a reason. If it is a private transfer, include passports and proof of address for a sender and a beneficiary. Source of funds is also important. For invoice payments, normally it is an invoice itself and a contract. Put a nice cover letter inside.


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