Can a Wire Transfer Be Reversed?

Wire transfers, another term for electronic money transfers, are the backbone of modern bank-to-bank payments. MoneyTransferComparison specialises in international money transfers and international payments and we get the following question quite often – “can a bank wire transfer be reversed?“.

Normally money gets to your destination just fine, but what if you’ve made an error and inputted the wrong beneficiary details? You’ll want to know if a wire recall is possible. In this article we look at this scenario from three angles. Can you cancel a wire transfer mid-payment? Can a wire transfer be reversed? And for those who have sent money internationally, can you cancel international wire transfers?

It can happen to any of us – whether it’s a small amount you’re looking to send to a friend, or worse, a significant amount for a new car or house – you accidentally key in a wrong number and end up sending a wire to the wrong account. Research from VibePay, an account-to-account payment specialist, shows that a quarter of people have accidentally transferred money to the wrong bank account at some point in their life, whilst one in ten have accidentally input the wrong information in the last year alone.

In the VibePay survey, the results of those looking to cancel a wire transfer were:

  • One in four people had the money bounced straight back to them (this would have been when incorrectly input details belonged to nobody or when the beneficiary bank identified that the account name supplied didn’t match the account details). 
  • Over a third had to go through their bank to cancel a wire transfer – typically taking six days to see their money again.
  • 28% of those who sent a payment to the wrong account never saw their money again.

Can I Cancel a Wire Transfer?

The issue with looking to cancel wire transfers, particularly domestic wires, is the speed in which payments are transacted these days. If you send money in the UK via faster payments, the chances are your funds will hit the beneficiary account within a matter of seconds. Make payments within the eurozone and it’s a similar story with SEPA instant credit transfers where funds are available in the beneficiary account in under 10 seconds.

Thus, the possibility of canceling a wire transfer is low. The chances are that by the time you’ve realised you’ve paid the wrong account, the funds have already credited it. 

There are some payment networks which process payments a little slower and you’re more likely to be able to cancel a wire transfer.

UK

In the UK, payments made via BACS are processed on a 3-day cycle. The remitting bank receives the order on day one, processes the BACS file on day two and makes payment on day three. If you request to cancel a wire transfer by the middle of day two then this should be successful.

On a wider note, open banking APIs have improved the payment process for domestic wires in the UK, reducing the chances of paying the wrong account. Now, when you type in the sort-code, account number and name of the beneficiary through online banking, your bank conducts a check to see if the name on the account matches the sort-code and account number. If they don’t match your bank provides you with a warning – don’t simply ignore this if it pops up. Check the details again with the beneficiary to ensure they’re correct. 

US

Payments made via ACH can be processed either same-day, next-day or as a two-day payment and there are some instances where you can seek to reverse a transfer:

  • The account number is wrong
  • The amount is incorrect
  • The transfer date is incorrect
  • The transfer is a duplicate

The reversal guidelines are designed to prevent fraud, such as in instances where individuals pay for a good, receive the good but then attempt to reverse a wire after the good was received (in effect scamming the seller to receive it for free). 

Nacha, the payment governor of ACH explains the reversal rules and how these are enforced.

If your funds have already been credited to the wrong bank account, you won’t be able to cancel the transfer and you’ll wonder can a wire transfer be reversed?

Can Wire Transfers be Reversed?

Unfortunately, in cases of accidental errors, wire transfers cannot be easily reversed once the payment is with the beneficiary. As a wire transfer has been deposited into the recipient’s account, and both banks have correctly followed the instructions you provided (even if this turned out to be wrong for you) then neither bank will be able to access those funds.

If the account name didn’t match up with the sort-code and account number, then the transfer could be rejected by the beneficiary bank before the funds are deposited in the recipient’s bank – note this is not a legal requirement though and some banks will not check if the name and account number line up.

If you have made an error, contact your bank immediately and they may contact the beneficiary bank to notify them of the error. This will all depend on the helpfulness of your bank and the quality of customer service as it’s at their discretion if it was a user error. The beneficiary bank can then send a request to the recipient for authorisation to debit their account. You are then, however, reliant on the honesty of the unknown recipient to admit they are not aware of the credit and are happy for the funds to be returned. 

In cases of fraud the beneficiary bank can have authorisation to take funds out of the recipient’s account but this is relying on funds still being available in that account. Should the funds have been transferred elsewhere there isn’t much the beneficiary bank can do in this case either.

If the fault lies with your bank, then you should be OK. They will look to recall the funds and in any case, if it was their error, they should refund you the payment amount. 

Can I Cancel International Wire Transfers?

Generally, international wire transfers will take longer to process than domestic wire transfers which can provide a longer period to cancel international wire transfers. This will all depend, however, on the currencies involved and the payment networks the wire transfer is processed through. A GBPEUR transfer could be very fast even though there are two payment networks at play. If we use the example we provided earlier, then settlement of the wire via faster payment in the UK would be very fast. As would the outbound payment in EUR if it were sent via SEPA instant credit transfer.

For fraud prevention purposes, a number of the international money transfer companies will be able to identify if the beneficiary account number does not match the beneficiary name and will not process the transfer. However, just as with banks, it is not a legal requirement and it’s not something all money transfer companies can do.

Payments sent via SWIFT can take longer to process and are perhaps your best shot at getting an international wire reversed. SWIFT, standing for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, would see the remitting bank send a SWIFT message to the recipient bank. This would notify the recipient bank of the error on the payment and should the funds have not already hit the recipient account, then the recipient bank can intervene and reverse the international wire. 

If any intermediary banks have been used in the international payment process then they may deduct a small fee from both the outgoing wire and the reversed wire, leaving you with less than you originally sent. These fees shouldn’t be more than $10-$20 on each leg however.

Bottom Line: Wire Recalls

To summarise, in instances of when a user has made an error, the chances of having a wire reversed are slim. The speed in which payments are processed in the modern age means the timeframe to cancel a wire transfer is extremely short, particularly for domestic transfers and even on many major international payment routes. If funds have already credited the recipient bank account then you may not be able to reverse a wire transfer at all. The banks involved have no obligation to assist and you’re reliant on the recipient being honest and authorising their bank to allow the wire to be reversed. To be safe, always double check the details you input on a payment and to take it a step further, check with your money transfer company or bank the systems they have in place (if any) to detect any conflicts in the account name and number of the beneficiaries you set up.

To learn more about the ins and outs of multiple aspects of banking please view our FX transfer FAQ consisting of the top questions relating to wires.