How to keep track of international payments

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In today's global economy, businesses large and small are crossing borders more than ever. This shift has turned international payments from an occasional happening into a crucial aspect of managing your accounts payable. 


But wait – with these cross-border transactions come added layers of complexity. Various regions have their own unique payment systems, each with its own set of steps and timeframes. And that's not even considering variables like currency exchange rates, intermediary banks, and the challenge of different time zones and business hours.


If you've found your way to this article, chances are you're grappling with this complexity, in need of clarity on where your money is and when your suppliers can expect payment. We'll break it down for you based on the payment system you're working with.


How do international payments work?

Most cross-border payments are processed either through SWIFT or SEPA. SWIFT and SEPA are not banks but frameworks that standardize money movement between countries and jurisdictions. 


Payments made and received by euro-denominated accounts typically use SEPA. SEPA makes international payments in the eurozone nearly as quick and seamless as domestic transfers. Most SEPA payments settle within one or two business days, although they can take a bit longer in some circumstances.


Most other international payments move between accounts using the SWIFT network. Depending on the countries and currencies involved, an international payment may go directly from bank to bank. For less common currencies, however, the payment may pass through intermediary banks and networks. This is where real-time visibility into international payment tracking becomes invaluable. 


How long do international payments take?

Most eurozone payments go through SEPA. You only need the recipient’s account number and IBAN to initiate a payment. A standard SEPA payment will typically arrive in the recipient’s account in one business day. 


SWIFT payments, on the other hand, are significantly more complicated. This is because the SWIFT network is massive, encompassing over 11,000 member institutions in over 200 countries. 


SWIFT doesn’t hold funds, manage accounts, or handle payment settlement functions. What it does provide is a standardized messaging framework to enable member banks to move money. 

In 2022, about 45 million transaction messages ran through the SWIFT network every single day. 


When you make payments using SWIFT, they typically settle in 1-4 business days. However, the processing time may increase if corresponding or intermediary banks are used, or uncommon currencies are involved. Time zones, holidays, and other operational considerations may also increase settlement time. 


Because of the additional complexity, SWIFT transfers are more costly than SEPA transfers and can cost as much as €30 to €50. If you need currency exchange services, expect to pay between 2% and 5% in forex fees. 


How to track international payments

Although most SWIFT payments arrive within the expected window of 1-4 days, there will inevitably come a time when five days have passed, and your supplier hasn’t received your payment. 


Fortunately, SWIFT gives you basic tools to track international payments. When you make a payment using SWIFT, you’ll get an end-to-end transaction reference number. This number stays with your payment as it moves from your account to the recipient’s, even if it passes through intermediary banks. 


You can track the payment by contacting your bank and providing the transaction reference number and a few other details, including the payment amount and payment date. That said, if a supplier’s payment is running late, their accounting team needs to contact yours, gather the necessary payment details, and initiate tracking through their bank. 


Keep in mind that some banks will charge a fee for tracking a SWIFT payment, and the time spent communicating back and forth with your supplier and your bank adds up. The lack of visibility creates bottlenecks and potential conflicts between you and the people who help keep you in business.


Partner with iBanFirst for international payment tracking and visibility

When you make international payments with iBanFirst, you have complete control over—and visibility into—the process. 


iBanFirst lets you choose the speed and cost of your international payments and gives you access to advanced payment tracking tools. The Payment Tracker provides real-time updates on your payments, so you’re always on top of any potential roadblocks or delays. 


Even better? You can give your suppliers visibility into their payments by granting them access to the Payment Tracker. 


The benefits are twofold: 


  • Enjoy the convenience of total autonomy. Your team no longer has to deal with phone calls and emails from suppliers chasing payments nor waste funds on tracking fees—, freeing up time and resources for more productive work
  • Supplier relationships can grow stronger. Equipped with real-time data, you can assure suppliers that their payments are on the way—providing the transparency they need to manage their cash flows and expenses


No payment service provider can guarantee that every international payment will go through on time without difficulties or delays. But iBanFirst gives you the highest level of transparency and visibility so you can stay on top of your payments and payment accounts—and head off potential problems with your suppliers. And you can do it faster, more efficiently, and more economically. 


Want to learn more about making and tracking international payments with iBanFirst’s payment platform? Get in touch with our experts today.