6 surprising reasons why your bank transfer is delayed

Isabelle Comber4 minutes
6 surprising reasons why your bank transfer is delayed
In this article

Waiting for funds to transfer can be frustrating. But as annoying as they are, delayed payments are a common hiccup that comes part and parcel with running a business. 

The problem is, a delayed payment can have a tangible effect. It can mean the difference between a bill getting paid, and a hefty fine. It can mean your staff don’t receive their wages on payday. It can mean the difference between hitting your targets for that quarter or not.

The direct impacts on your cash flow are obvious. So why are bank transfer times often so slow?

How long does it take for money to transfer between banks?

There is no set or defined timeframe in which a bank transfer should occur. These days a bank transfer can take anywhere from one to ten business days.And a business day, as it’s generally understood, isn’t a vague idea. It actually has a legal definition.

According to the Australian Acts Interpretation Act (1901)—yes, the Act used to interpret all other Australian Acts—in Section 2B a business day is defined as: “Any day, other than a Saturday or Sunday, or public holiday”. So any day on which business would typically occur. 

Based on this, you can already start to see one reason why your bank transfer time feels slow, or you’re experiencing a delayed payment.

Let's look at some other surprising factors that have an impact on your bank transfer times, and how this can result in a delayed payment for your business.

What factors influence bank transfer times?

1. Global events

The pandemic, geopolitical events and natural disasters have an impact on international bank-to-bank transfer times.

While your bank will likely be providing regular updates as the situation evolves, most banks have advised their clients to expect delays. These can be due to limited staff, staff undergoing alternative working arrangements, or unforeseen staffing interruptions. 

2. Bank holidays, even those in other countries

Banks work under the legal definition of business days, which means they close for public holidays and shut up shop over Christmas. So, as bank transfer times only count business days towards your transfer period, these holiday times don’t count towards this, even if you started the transfer prior to the day they’re closed.

You also need to be aware of the country to which you’re sending your funds, and any holidays they may celebrate. Golden Week, for example, is a series of public holidays contained within a one-week period and is celebrated in both China and Japan. So if you transfer money to either of these countries during this time, you can expect a delayed payment.

3. You transferred money over the weekend, but not your weekend

It pays to be aware of the working week in the country to which you’re transferring your funds.

As per the business day rule, bank transfers made over the weekend usually won’t begin their transfer until the next business day. This is usually a Monday, but what’s considered a weekend also depends on what that country considered a working week.

For example, the United Arab Emirates operate on a Sunday to Thursday working week, with their weekend over Friday and Saturday. Some Malaysian districts also work to this timeframe, while others operate on a more recognisable Monday to Friday.

4. Different time zones and bank cut-offs

When making a bank transfer, the varied times are often at the mercy of any number of human factors. But you’ve also got the difference in time zones.

Starting an international transfer at the end of the working day will add time to your transfer, as it’s typically sent from the next business day.

For our Oceanian and Asian business partners, time zones don’t present too big a problem. But for countries with a significant time zone difference, such as Australia and the USA, this becomes a much bigger issue.

For example, a payment processed at midday in Australia is the equivalent of 8:00pm in New York the day before. So when calculating business days, you need to factor in the time on the receiving end of your transfer.

5. Your bank transfer is actually made via the SWIFT network

The SWIFT network is the banking infrastructure that underpins your international transfers.

Now, this network doesn’t transfer your money, per se. It transfers your information. The information of your transaction is transferred in the form of a payment order, from bank to bank, until it arrives at its desired account. These payments usually pass through a number of different intermediary banks before arriving at your destination, which is a major cause in a delayed payment.

But how long a SWIFT payment takes can vary, taking anywhere from 24-48 hours, up to five business days. Learn more about this legacy banking network.

6. There’s sometimes just… missing paperwork

Sometimes you just don’t know what’s happening on the other end of your transfer. Different countries have different money transfer regulations, tax rules, and additional documentation that needs to be filled out. China, for example, requires proof that the source of the money is legal, and it’s been legally obtained through means of income.

This paperwork will be done by a human, which means — as we said above — it’s at the mercy of human error. So your transfer documentation might be all okay on your end, but in the intervening process there’s a form that isn’t filled out correctly, or it just… gets lost.

We’re not saying this is an expected occurrence, but it’s still something that can occur. Missing documentation can lead to significant delays in your payments, so it’s something to factor in if time is of the essence.

Airwallex gets your payments there on time

Airwallex is designed for the speed and flexibility required in the modern business world. While some of the examples mentioned above can’t be reduced, Airwallex’s payment system ensures that your international payments won’t be hit by any unnecessary delays.

You can make international money transfers in multiple currencies, in one business day or less. Our technology enables your payments to bypass the SWIFT network, utilising local bank transfers instead, which makes your payments faster and reduces your fees at the same time.

It’s win-win, and doesn’t rely on a system that’s over 40 years old.

Add up to 3% back to your margins with a business account built to go global

Airwallex Business Account does away with fee shock completely. You pay no monthly fees on your foreign currency account, ever, and can access whole FX rates that are up to 90% better than what’s offered by the banks.

Sign up for your free account to get started now.

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Isabelle Comber
Business Finance Writer

Izzy is a business finance writer for Airwallex. She specialises in thought leadership that empowers businesses to grow without boundaries.

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