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Iban, the terrible one

Taming the Shrew – a relaxed approach to SEPA and other number monsters

The news magazine »Der Spiegel« had already suspected it: »SEPA transfers in the EU: IBAN, the terrible one«, the magazine mocked back in August last year. In fact, getting used to the 22-digit IBAN monster has overwhelmed so many bank customers that the introduction had to be postponed. But the changeover is coming. We can’t take this procedure off your hands, but we can reduce your effort and improve the results.

Without technical help, you will quickly be at the edge of your capabilities, but don’t fret: this is how it is for even the smartest homo sapiens. For humans can usually only remember seven ± two units of information, e.g. numbers. This magic seven, known in psychology as »Miller’s number«, was researched more than 200 years ago by the philosopher John Locke. He showed that adults who have briefly seen several objects can name up to seven objects almost without error. With more than seven objects, however, the error rate suddenly increases significantly.

It’s too bad that no psychologists were involved in the development of the EU procedure. When transferring the IBAN column of numbers, you now have to proceed piece by piece and check again and again whether an error has crept in. At least there is a clear improvement for us in one part of the procedure: the checksum now has two digits instead of one as before. This means that transmission errors are found with 99% probability.

If you have to convert larger data sets of sort codes / account numbers to IBAN, or if you are not sure that you have done everything correctly, the computer brain will help. We in turn assist with the right software. Because even with the IBAN, the trick is not only in the size, but in the detail. There are a number of special rules that have to be observed during the changeover – and not all of the changeover tools currently on offer will reliably help you get over these stumbling blocks.

Jörg Vogler

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This post is also available in DE.