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Both securities industry professionals and investors alike require unique security identifiers to distinguish between the numerous and varied securities issuers and securities issues. The most widely used security identifiers are:
The security Symbol or Ticker Symbol for a security is a unique security identifier that consists of alpha (equities) – or alpha numeric (bonds) – characters used to identify both the security issuer and the specific security issue.
It is a general rule of thumb that Ticker Symbols consisting of one, two or three alpha characters identify Listed Equity Securities that are traded on the various Listed Stock Exchanges. A similar rule of thumb links Ticker Symbols of four alpha characters to NASDAQ OTC traded securities. For example:
As with all rules of thumb, the designation of stock exchange by symbol applies to the majority of securities, but not all.
The Ticker Symbol is both unique and universal. That is, no two securities have the same ticker symbol, and the industry as a whole utilized the same symbol to identify the same security issuer and issue. The Ticker Symbol is the predominant security identifier used by investors and securities traders alike. Stock quotes – both on-line and via Newspaper – are generally referenced by Ticker Symbol.
The CUSIP Number is another alpha numeric security identifier. The term CUSIP is an acronym that stands for the Committee for Universal Security Identification Protocol. The CUSIP is the predominant security identifier utilized for trade comparison and settlement processing. Similar to the security symbol, the CUSIP number is both unique and universal.
Because the CUSIP Number is unique, no two marketable securities can share the same identification number. Additionally, there is a one-to-one relationship between symbol and CUSIP. That is, for each symbol there is only one corresponding CUSIP Number. For example:
The CUSIP Number is a nine-character identifier. The first six characters, which are generally numeric, identify the issuer of the security. The last three characters identify the specific security issue. The last three characters are very important because one securities issuer might have several different marketable securities issues – ie. multiple classes of equities and/or debt securities.
For example, consider the following CUSIP Numbers:
Based on the first 6 characters it is known that both securities are issued by the same entity – in this case American Telephone and Telegraph – or AT&T. The last 3 characters identify that the two CUSIP Numbers are for different marketable securities – both of which were issued by AT&T.
The first CUSIP Number – 001957109 – is the unique and global security identifier for AT&T Equity Common Shares. The second CUSIP – 001957AJ8 – is the security identifier for a callable bond issued by AT&T on January 15, 1992. This issues matures on January 15th 2022, is callable on January 15th 2002 @ $103.21 per bond, and pays a semi-annual coupon of 8 1/8%.
The term ISIN stands for the International Securities Identification Number. The ISIN Number is a uniformly structured number for the identification of international (non-US domestic) securities issuers and issues for use in any application in the trading or administration of securities. The international standard for issuing ISIN Numbers is set forth by the Association of National Numbering Agencies - ANNA.
An example of an ISIN Number is:
Internal Security Numbers
In some instances, the brokerage firm might assign its own unique identifier to each security processed on its brokerage processing system. Although unique, it is important to note that internal security numbers are not accepted globally.
The Security Description File
Brokerage firms track security identifiers such as the Symbol, CUSIP Number, ISIN Number and Internal Security Numbers – as well as Security Description and other pertinent information related to specific security issues – in large data files or databases commonly referred to as the Master Security Description File or MSD.
The Security Description File also tracks security information such as – but not limited to – security prices, bond issues, bond call and maturity dates, bond coupon rates and payment frequencies, equity dividend payments, DTC and CNS eligibility status etc.