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Mysteries of the BIN-Part I

By Jared Isaacman

The acronym BIN gets thrown around often in the bankcard industry. The term stands for Bank Identification Number. Although it is used quite a bit on the acquiring side of the business, it is also just as important to the issuing side.

The Bank Identification Number is the Visa-issued number that is unique to each acquiring and issuing bank. The MasterCard equivalent is the Interbank Card Association (ICA) number.

The BIN and ICA are essential components in the communication between issuers and acquirers through the interchange system.

Although you may never know your acquiring bank's BIN, you do, in fact, know the BIN to quite a few issuing banks.

If you look at the credit cards in your wallet you may notice that the first four digits of the card account numbers are the same. This is the first part of an issuing bank's BIN.

The BIN is the first set of digits referenced in any communication through Visa and MasterCard or between member banks.

Each bankcard transaction settled includes the acquiring bank's BIN or ICA. Each chargeback, retrieval or compliance issue between the issuers and acquirers references the BIN or ICA of the respective banks.

These numbers ultimately serve as the primary tracking number for the associations and their member banks.

For more practical use, the BIN is a principal asset for risk managers in the ISO world. Often times in risk management, individual credit card transactions can be flagged for analysis; but for ultimate confirmation, the acquiring risk manager would need to contact the issuing bank's risk department for verification of the sale.

This is a process whereby issuers contact their cardholders to confirm the sale was legitimate.

The only way for the acquiring risk manager to contact the correct issuing bank is to look at the card number and determine which issuing bank uses that respective BIN. That is one example of the reference value of those numbers.

A more expanded example would be if an issuing bank's cardholder base was compromised or exploited through underground software (such as Credit Master) that generates credit card numbers for certain card ranges and BINs.

This type of scenario is not rare and happens regularly to the payment processing industry. Having quick reference and communication with the different member banks is only possible through their respective identification numbers.

Look for Mysteries of the BIN-Part II in an upcoming issue of The Green Sheet in 2004.

The article will include the common interpretations and applications of the BIN and ICA in the ISO/MSP side of the business.

Jared Isaacman is Director of Operations for United Bank Card, Inc. Reach him by calling 908-638-5326 ext. 120 or e-mailing him at

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