What is a Building Society Roll Number?

In this guide we will explain what a building society is and the role they play in the financial services industry, looking specifically at roll numbers and whether you need one to make an international money transfer.

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What is a building society?

A building society is an institution that offers banking and other financial services to its clients. Building societies are different from banks because they are built on the principle of mutuality. This means instead of being known as clients or customers, individuals who open an account with a building society are known as members and granted democratic control of the business and a share in its profits.

Building societies specialise in mortgage lending and demand-deposit accounts, helping members get a foot on the property ladder. They also tend to offer traditional retail services such as current and savings accounts, credit cards and personal loans.

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Did you know... It seems the term “building society” originated in the United Kingdom and can be traced back to 1775 when the first of its kind was founded. Evolving from pre-existing cooperative savings groups, Ketley’s Building Society was established by Richard Ketley in Birmingham, UK. Ketley charged a monthly subscription and used the money to pay to build housing for members.

What is a building society roll number?

While building societies and banks offer many of the same financial services and products, the way they handle payments and money transfers differs in some ways.

For the most part, standard UK bank accounts, a six-digit sort code and eight-digit account number was issued to customers. However, early building societies in the UK were not included in CHAPS - the national Clearing House Automated Payment System - which meant an alternative verification method was required to identify building society accounts. This lead to building societies implementing their own reference system, known as roll numbers.

Despite its name, a roll number is actually a reference code made up of both numbers and letters.

When is a building society roll number needed?

Building societies are exclusive to Commonwealth countries, with the majority in Australia, New Zealand and the UK; they used to exist in Ireland too. As a concept that originated in the UK, there are now 42 different building societies in the UK; far less than the 350 banking groups which operate across the country.

Roll numbers will only be needed when making a payment to a building society account in one of these countries.

Will I need a roll number to make an international money transfer?

This depends entirely on the account you are depositing funds into. If your recipient has requested you send money to their building society account, then they may need to provide you with the roll number. If you are sending the money online, it is important to reference the roll number when initiating the payment.

How do you find a building society roll number?

The best way to locate a roll number is by contacting the building society directly, to obtain this information: this can only be done by the account holder. It can also be found on bank statements or in the original paperwork issued by the building society, but your best bet is to contact your building society in person or via phone.

Don't give too much away over the phone In our modern world of online banking and mobile money apps, receiving phone calls is not as commonplace as it once was. However, if you do happen to receive a call from your bank or building society, be sure to verify the identity of the caller before handing over your personal details. If in doubt, visit your building society in person or using your online account via secure browser.


There are notably less building societies in the world than banks, but if the recipient of your money transfer has an account with one, it will be helpful to know what exactly a roll number is and how it will be used to send money from A to B. While not all building societies and financial service providers require roll numbers they are still in use when it comes to identifying individual accounts; most commonly to verify the details of a savings account. Find out more about other useful banking terms by browsing our other guides, as seen below.

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Article Factchecked by Elliot Laybourne on 20th July 2022: Elliott is a former investment banker with a 20 year career in the city of London. During this time he held senior roles at ABN Amro, Societe Generale, Marex Financial and Natixis bank, specialising in commodity derivatives and options market-making. During this time, Elliott’s client list included Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Credit Suisse, Schroders Asset Management, and the Pennsylvania State Public School Employees Retirement System, amongst others.
April Summers
April Summers
April is a trained journalist and the Content Editor for She has 10 years experience writing about a diverse range of subjects, from financial services to arts and entertainment. When she's not writing about global remittances she can be found daydreaming about her next holiday abroad.