[Dave Birch] By complete coincidence I found myself reading two papers on the “third way” for European cards this morning (yes, my life really is that interesting). The first from our good friends at Payment Systems Europe, the second from our good friends at Wellcome R/T. Welcome’s Pierre Boces has published a whitepaper that compares strategies for payment scheme competition. His perspective is that the existing international card schemes are so well-established that it would be better to focus on having them deliver more value to the marketplace than spending a lot of money creating a new “third way” euroscheme (whether under the EAPS or something else). Peter Jones from PSE also points out that creating a new “third way” euroscheme will involve considerable effort and expenditure and puts forward another alternative: hook up the ATM networks and then extend them to POS. As Peter points out, many of the domestic debit schemes that are vanishing because of SEPA started life at ATM networks anywa.

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Perhaps it not really worth worrying about, because no-one is bothering with SEPA anyway. According to the EFMA, ABN AMRO and Capgemini World Payments Report, which looked at SEPA preparations in 13 countries, it is “unlikely” that a critical mass of SEPA payment instruments will be achieved by 2011. They are calling for regulators to provide incentives in order to mobilise public sector companies and corporates to migrate to SEPA payment instruments, which I can’t comment on, but also point out that the SEPA implementation is all about interbank standards that won’t make much difference to those corporates. In their case, who cares if payments are pan-European if everything else isn’t: they want pan-European e-invoicing standards and the like otherwise they can’t cost justify the not inconsiderable investment.

Some banks are pushing on, however, and looking for ways to make their SEPA expenditure pay something back. Deutsche Bank is an example. They have said that they will offer a “common price” for any payment transfer within the eurozone, effectively treating all payments the same and removing the distinction between high value and low value payments. They see this as a carrot to persuade corporates to move on adopting SEPA. To me, saving money on payments seems like a good idea, but just as in the retail case, will it be enough to simply provide the payment instrument in the future, or should banks focus on providing a payment service that wraps the instrument with a variety of value-added services?

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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