Bank Key vs. Routing Number: Understanding the Differences 

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When it comes to managing finances, it’s important to know the differences between banking keys, routing, and account numbers. This is the case whether you’re setting up a direct deposit, transferring money between accounts, or conducting other financial transactions. 

At the end of the day, the terms ‘bank key vs routing number’ often surface, and they can be confusing. At the heart of our financial lives is the bank account, and associated with this account are two important numbers that serve as identifiers: bank keys and the bank routing number.

Both these numbers play essential roles in the banking world. Understanding their differences can make a significant difference in how we navigate our financial landscapes.

Main Differences Between Bank Key vs Routing Number

The main differences between Bank Keys vs Routing Number are:

  • A routing number is used for domestic transactions, whereas bank keys is used for international transactions.
  • A routing number identifies the institution responsible for processing the transaction, whereas bank keys identify the bank and its location.
  • A bank can have multiple routing numbers, whereas the same institution can only have one bank key.

Understanding Bank Keys

Bank keys, typically found in the context of international transactions, is a bank identifier used in some countries. It varies in length and structure. Unlike a bank’s routing number, bank keys are not standardized to be a nine-digit number. Its purpose is to identify the bank during inter-bank transactions.

In some systems, the key works similarly to a routing number, helping to direct transactions to the correct institution. However, the term bank keys can refer to different banking concepts depending on the country. 

For example, in countries like Germany, bank keys (“Bankleitzahl”) is an eight-digit number used to identify the bank involved in a transaction.

Understanding Bank Routing Numbers

The routing number is also referred to as the routing transit number or the ABA routing number. It’s a nine-digit number that essentially acts as an address for your bank or credit union. This number is assigned by the Federal Reserve. It’s how banking institutions in the United States identify where your bank accounts are opened. 

The routing number locates the specific bank responsible for the payment of a negotiable instrument, such as a check.

Think of it as a sort of GPS for your money. When you’re transferring money to or from your account number, the routing number tells the banking institutions where to send it. It’s like a bank’s return address, providing precise directions for where your money needs to go.

Interestingly, a large bank may have multiple routing numbers. This is because the Federal Reserve assigns these numbers based on factors such as the bank’s geographic location and the type of transaction being conducted. For instance, there may be separate numbers for activities such as ACH transfers and wire transfers.

Examples of Bank Keys and Routing Number

Bank Keys

  • In Germany, the Bankleitzahl (BLZ) system uses bank keys to identify banks.
  • In the United Kingdom, the Sort Code system uses a six-digit bank code to identify banks and branches.

Routing Numbers

  • In the United States, the Automated Clearing House (ACH) system uses these numbers to identify financial banks for processing transactions such as direct deposits, bill payments, and wire transfers.
  • In Canada, the Canadian Payments Association (CPA) system uses nine-digit numbers to identify banking institutions for processing transactions such as direct deposits and electronic funds transfers.

Significance of Bank Keys and Routing Numbers

Bank keys and routing numbers play a crucial role in the world of banking. They are used to ensure that transactions are processed accurately and efficiently.

Without these numbers, it would be challenging to conduct transactions. This is especially true for international transactions. There would be no way to identify the bank responsible for processing the transaction.

In addition to identifying banking institutions, bank keys, and bank routing numbers are also used to prevent fraud and other financial crimes. By using these numbers, banks can verify the authenticity of a transaction and ensure that the funds are being transferred to the correct account.

While both bank keys and bank routing numbers are used to identify the specific banking institutions involved in a transaction, they are not interchangeable. You wouldn’t use bank keys in place of a bank routing number or vice versa.


In conclusion, bank keys and routing numbers are two essential components of any financial transaction. While both are used to identify financial institutions, they have different functions and are used in different types of transactions. A bank routing number is used for domestic transactions, while a key is used for international transactions.

By understanding the differences between the two, you can ensure that your transactions are processed accurately and efficiently. Remember, no matter the terminology or banking jargon, the ultimate goal of these numbers is to ensure your hard-earned money ends up exactly where it should be – in your account.


Are bank keys the same as routing numbers?

In the United States, the term “bank routing number” is used to refer to the nine-digit code used to identify a bank for processing transactions. In other countries, such as Germany, the term “bank keys” may be used to refer to a code used to identify a bank.

What’s the difference between routing numbers and account numbers?

An account number is a unique identifier for an account at a financial institution used for depositing or withdrawing funds. A bank routing number is a nine-digit number used to identify the bank responsible for processing transactions like wire transfers and direct deposits.

Do I need bank keys for an international transaction?

“Bank Keys” is a term used in SAP systems as a bank identifier for payment transactions in certain countries. It’s used in the backend of financial systems and is not typically something a customer deals with directly.