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Wire transfer is the only way I know that is not reversible. Bank transfers are reversible;

From what I know, the two are synonims. It is a transfer you order at your bank using the destination IBAN coordinates. In particular, since I live in EU, there is the SEPA network (Single European Payment Area) that operates transfer.

In the context of SEPA, you can transfer money at ridiculous fees in euros or to any Member State account (e.g. DE to HR), and I have been transferring money to a number of European international accounts for free in the past.

I know that these transfer are reversible, though the chargeback must be initiated by the sender bank. I mean, if the customer complains the bank has the option of either calling the money back or say "we are sorry, sir, but the transfer is gone", and I witnessed both behaviors in different scam situations.

In the English language, what is the difference between the two wordings of transfer? E.g. ask Google and he will call both "virement" in French, "banküberweisung" in German, "bonifico" in Italian, "transferencia" in Spanish, to cite the major Western European languages

  • 3
    I doubt there's anything inherent in "In the English language" that implies the level of distinction between the two meanings that you're asking about. For everyday use, they are mostly synonymous; the "Devil is in the detail" would only be found in the specific terms and conditions of a particular service, irrespective of whether it called itself a wire or a bank transfer.
    – TripeHound
    Dec 2, 2020 at 10:53
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    I literally owned a payment processing company, and, I still don't really understand the various transfer mechanisms. I've literally spoken to CTOs at name institutions who do not really understand it!
    – Fattie
    Dec 2, 2020 at 14:12
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    @TripeHound - hmm, that's just not correct. "wire transfer" inevitably means "old-fashioned SWIFT type transfer". "bank transfer" inevitably means "not an old-fashioned wire transfer". "transfer" can mean precisely either of those things.
    – Fattie
    Dec 2, 2020 at 14:24
  • one small point, OP, Google is just wrong; in say French there are certainly separate terms (just glance at the "make a payment" page on any bank site there)
    – Fattie
    Dec 2, 2020 at 14:41
  • And if the bank claims they have both wire transfers and bank transfers, the next question is "What is the fee for each service?" Dec 2, 2020 at 19:33

3 Answers 3

  1. "wire transfer" typically means the "SWIFT" system and which, if for some reason you wanted to, you could read about on wikipedia or similar. (Which, as an aside - and this causes vast confusion - is little more than "an early email-type messaging system". {Most folks think that the money travels "by SWIFT", or something: not really.} You can actually do "wire transfers" completely unrelated to using the SWIFT messaging system, but, whatever.)

  2. "bank transfer" - in the context of contradistinction from "wire transfer" - means one of the many systems, more modern than "SWIFT wire transfer", which are used these days.

  3. Note that point 2 can range from the staggeringly old-fashioned, basically laughable systems still used in the US ("ACH" etc) to the hyper-modern systems ("the government caps the fee at 20 cents") used in Europe, and the inexplicable/ineffable mysteriously Eastern systems used in Asia. To repeat, "bank transfer" is, let us say, the local, modern system for xferring money around. (Note that, for example, the OP here assumes "bank transfer" is "their" local national/regional bank-transfer-thing; actually, in Australia or Shanghai or Korea or Canada, the local national/regional bank-transfer-thing, of those parts, would seem very foreign/bizarre!)

  4. Note though that the word "transfer", alone, can be and is certainly used to mean "any sort" of transfer, whether the ancient "wire transfer" ("SWIFT") or one of the more modern ones. This is important in the context of the question "how used in English?".

  5. Regarding what it said in the original post. The writer was correct in spirit but totally, completely, wrong in detail. I've had "wire transfers" reversed dozens of times; conversely there's been numerous times I've failed to have a "bank transfer" {as in 2} of one type or another reversed when it needed to be. You should take the spirit of that post to mean "those scams work by having you send money that will be difficult to reverse, but then they reverse the other one" - quite correct. {Note that, just for example, one way the perps can engineer it to be difficult to reverse, is, by for example quickly taking the money away from yet another bogus account. Again, in short, it's simply totally incorrect that "wire transfers" ("usually aka SWIFT") - per se - as such - are irreversible; they're probably easier to reverse since it's all-human, basically.)

  6. As a quasi-aside, "wire transfers" ("usually aka SWIFT") inevitably involve, eek, "correspondent banks" ... which inevitably causes spectacular grief and heartache when wires get lost, etc. Typically, in the milieu of "bank transfers" ("as used here in point 2"), you are less likely to / will never hear about "correspondent banks". So bear that in mind.

  7. Global differences, it's laughably hard to do a "wire transfer" in the USA. This is getting slightly less true as time goes on, but for example, one of my banks in the USA, the only way to do a wire transfer is, I kid you not, send a fax to a certain, well, fax machine. Whereas, every European and Asian bank has wire transfers easily and perfectly built-in to their phone and Alexa interfaces. (Even though, TBC, naturally you'd just use the far superior modern "bank transfer" (point 2) systems there, where possible.)

  8. Finally, reading again point 2 ... note that many, many people (including, eg. bank staff) have utterly no clue - not a clue - about anything, whatsoever, explained here in points 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. It's totally normal that folks will utterly misuse these terms, and completely, totally confuse the base concepts involved (ie, having absolutely no idea whether an acronym like "IBAN" means some bank in New Zealand, a methodology, a code, a computer, a service, a government department ... or whatever). Any number of times I've been dealing w/ something to do with an ACH, say, and everyone involved has referred to it as a "wire transfer" - and vice versa.

"It's that easy" :/

  • My understanding is that your bank will either choose to use a local, faster, modern, way fo transfer if it's possible (e.g. SEPA for EU/EEA accounts, ACH within US), or fall back to old school SWIFT if you are sending money to Nigeria, which is the likely case of the original linked question. Dec 2, 2020 at 16:08
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    Hmm, you know, surprisingly not really no ... I know of NO bank (Europe, Asia, Americas) that will "automatically decide" the pathway to use. No, that doesn't happen. On the "form" (or whatever paradigm is at hand), the customer knows/specifies what the heck is going to happen - and that's it ! Heh!
    – Fattie
    Dec 2, 2020 at 16:33
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    (Note that the "information you enter" is utterly, utterly different for the different modes; there's no way at all one could send a "wire transfer 'SWIFT'" with the info from a SEPA-type transfer or an ACH or whatever.)
    – Fattie
    Dec 2, 2020 at 16:34
  • I understand "wire transfer" as Western Union or similar. Do they use SWIFT? I thought they were even more ancient than SWIFT. Dec 5, 2022 at 20:47
  • @user253751 - indeed, "wire transfer" and SWIFT have no connection at all to Western Union. Indeed the whole point of Western Union is that you don't need to make a wire transfer, or use a bank in any way.
    – Fattie
    Dec 6, 2022 at 12:00

Point of view from the east: I'm from the Philippines.

When we send funds domestically and it involves a bank, we call it a bank transfer.

If a bank is not involved, we call it "pera padala" (direct translation: "money send", i.e. money transfer). For context, a lot of local couriers/pawn shops accept cash and give a tracking number, which a recipient uses to claim funds at any other branch.

Wire transfer automatically implies international transfers. Further, remittance implies incoming wire transfers, specifically when Filipinos working abroad send money back home.

  • Many thanks. I am aware of the money transfer agencies, e.g. WU and MoneyGram, which are widely used by Filipinos too when they work in EU. Dec 3, 2020 at 13:29

There is no difference.

From the Wikipedia article (emphasis mine)

Wire transfer, bank transfer or credit transfer, is a method of electronic funds transfer from one person or entity to another. A wire transfer can be made from one bank account to another bank account, or through a transfer of cash at a cash office.

For different reasons, native English speakers may choose one or another in some cases and places, but in an international context like yours it makes no difference whatsoever. "Wire" comes from the fact that telegraph lines were used back in the day. In a general context, nowadays all bank transfers are "wire" transfers (at least, telematic) and vice-versa.

  • This is completely wrong. Systems like (say) ACH are totally different in paradigm from systems like SWIFT.
    – Fattie
    Dec 6, 2022 at 16:16
  • @Fattie, I disagree. I think your answer is good but the question states "in the English language ..." and in the context of translations. OP is not not asking about the technicalities. The terms are effectively used interchangeably by the general public. Especially outside the US, If you read that you can pay "by wire transfer" or by "bank transfer", everyone knows exactly what it means: the same.
    – istepaniuk
    Dec 13, 2022 at 11:18
  • I don't mean to disagree, but you are 100% incorrect here. The terms are effectively used interchangeably by the general public completely wrong. i live in and do business in france, germany, scandinavia, the US, britain, japan, hong kong and china. everyone knows that a "bank transfer" is totally different than a wire transfer. I'm afraid to say my friend! note that the wiki article is hopelessly incorrect. Every single person commenting or answering here has pointed this out. Most simply and clearly, aloha mentions: "Wire transfer automatically implies international transfers" that's it
    – Fattie
    Dec 13, 2022 at 13:22
  • @Fattie I did some more research and I cannot find any authoritative source that indicates that the general public and not just people working in finance makes such distinction in an international setting when speaking English. On the contrary, searching for e-commerce sites where this form of payment is possible reveals indistinct use of the terms. Even in the US, where FedWIRE is domestic, they use "wire". There is no such consensus here as in "every single person commenting" nor you have provided any source other than your own (I am sure valuable) experience and opinion.
    – istepaniuk
    Dec 16, 2022 at 14:07
  • hi Iste. ... sure, you should make yoru own judgement. Cheers!
    – Fattie
    Dec 17, 2022 at 16:17

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