Check routing numbers and account numbers have important banking roles but serve vastly different functions. These numbers together have made banking easier, allowing consumers to easily care for funds, and merchants to ensure payment for goods and services. These two numbers identify your account from others and direct funds to and from your banking institution.
Industry standards have made quick identification of the routing number and account number possible by examining the bottom of a normal bank check. In the United States, a routing number is nine digits long and is on the bottom left of the draft. Although standards differ between regions of the world, banking systems have become uniform so that routing and bank account numbers are easily identifiable in a similar manner, regardless of country. Account numbers vary in length between institutions, but in the United States is the second number on the bottom of the check.
Routing numbers were developed by the American Bankers Association in 1910 and have evolved over time to accommodate many advances in banking, such as automated clearinghouses and online banking. Checking accounts have been around since ancient times. The modern "cheque" comes from the Arabic "saqq," which was a written vow to pay for goods, to avoid carrying cash in dangerous areas.
Accuity Solutions creates and assigns routing transit numbers to new institutions, ensuring each separate banking entity is easily identifiable against others. In 1911 Accuity became the official Registrar of ABA Routing numbers, ensuring that any ABA routing number would remain unique for each institution. Individual banks assign account numbers to individuals, businesses or groups through new account opening operations which vary between institutions.
Routing numbers feature a check digit at the end of the string of numbers to verify the integrity of the routing so funds aren't directed elsewhere. However, bank account numbers have been easily manipulated over the years to allow criminals to fool merchants into phony transactions. Many merchants now use bank account verification services or electronic check conversion to verify the status of accounts before entering into customer agreements. With the rise of credit and debit cards, some merchants have stopped accepting checks altogether to avoid relying on written bank account information.
A routing number directs the flow of funds to or from a bank. In the United States this uniform code helps the Federal Reserve and Automated Clearing House, often called ACH, determine where to request or send funds. Inside the bank, an account number directs the institution to the appropriate account to deposit or withdraw funds. In automatic billing or deposit arrangements, the account number allows third parties to request or deposit funds from a specific account and the routing number to easily find the correct institution.