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SEPA endangered

Week 05, 2009

This year, just as usual, several conferences in Omnicard were dedicated to SEPA (Single Euro Payment Area), and showed a decreasing involvement level for the project. During these presentations, SEPA has been called a “political project”, meaning the industry felt it had not been involved enough since the project launch. SEPA suffers from a lack of vision, a lack of planning, a lack of involvement from the industry, a multiplicity of structures, and a lack of funding.

SEPA is usually presented as a natural evolution, or as the translation in the payment card business of the creation of the Euro coins and banknotes. There is a global vision, but details are still too open to allow for technical developments: there is a need for business terms behind the political process. SEPA has set a goal, but no planning. Investments by the payment industry are unlikely as long as no commitment date has been set.

The recent positions taken by the European Commission against the interchange charged by MasterCard or Visa, also spread doubt in the payment industry regarding income generation. No valid replacement for the interchange has been found, and the payment industry feels threatened by decreasing revenue.

At the same time, some industry heavyweights start to question the need for SEPA when they point out the fact that for German ec-Giro cards, for instance, 98% of transactions are domestic. Now, financial institutions announced they are focusing on the development of their own systems rather setting their priorities on SEPA integration.

With all these questions remaining open, we’re still far from a decision when it comes to what form SEPA should take:

  • A scheme of national schemes, as supported by EAPS, the Euro Alliance of Payment Schemes,
  • An even more massive presence of MasterCard, through Maestro, and Visa through Vpay,
  • Or the creation of a new, pan European payment association.

Many in the payment industry feel that following SEPA is like shooting at a moving target, and the global confidence in the project is shrinking.

Thierry Spanjaard
Chief Editor
Smart Insights