[Dave Birch] I’ve been to a couple of meetings this week, for one reason or another, were the topic of SEPA has loomed large in the discussions. Then I remembered Chris Skinner’s typically pithy (and typically accurate) summary of the current situation.

SEPA Credit Transfers are picking up a pace, but it’s slow. Only 2% of all credit transfers use the SCT structure today. E-invoicing is taking off as a specialist interest area, but nothing has yet been agreed or is in place, and it is unlikely to be until 2012 or later. The Payment Services Directive (PSD) is agreed and is being transposed by most nations, except Sweden. Even with transposition, each country has its own PSD flavour so we have 27 flavours of harmonisation. That’s not a standard. Meanwhile, the SEPA Direct Debit program will start this year. Hopefully it starts in November, when the PSD gets transposed, but it’s not guaranteed. This is to be determined at an EPC meeting on 31st March where the banks will agree whether November is do-able or not. Finally, there’s no migration or end-date mandate for any of the above and, until there is, this program is a road to nowhere.

[From The Financial Services Club’s Blog: SEPA and the PSD: broken but not dead]

It’s certainly a slow burn. But I’m mildly hopeful that the PSD, unlike SEPA, will lead to some actual change in the marketplace that might be discernible to the average consumer. Other people don’t think so. The BCG annual survey of payments forecasts much lower growth in payment revenues in the SEPA zone through to 2016 (which would seem to imply downward pressure on bank pricing, and therefore some success for SEPA) than in the Americas or Asia-Pacific, but goes on to say that “other SEPA objectives may never be realised [including] improved payment services”. There’s clearly a difference of opinion between organisations that sell hardware, software, outsourcing and implementation and those who don’t (eg, BCG) because they go on to say “the benefits of further implementation of SEPA are limited and investments required for achieving full SEPA are prohibitive”.

There was an article in Electronic Finance and Payments Law and Policy (henceforth EFPLP) back in September that was headlined “SEPA survey: businesses unready for implementation” but that wasn’t my interpretation. Basically, ATOS Consulting and the accountants Deloitte had done a survey of Dutch corporates and discovered that while 80% of them knew what SEPA was, 80% of that group has no strategy to implement anything. Since more than two-thirds of the respondents had no idea what the financial benefits might be, it’s not hard to see why. What the EFPLP article showed wasn’t that businesses were unready but that they were uninterested. Given the amount of money spent by banks on IT vendors, consultants and lawyers putting the SEPA Credit Transfer in place, the lack of interest by business must be very disappointing, and I can’t see any obvious way of enhancing it in the short term, because the value-added services (such as pan-European electronic invoicing) that might make it more interesting are still a long way off.

Perhaps a simple less here is that we ought to consider proposed future payment systems like this as a bundle of transactional and value-added services together and not start spending money on implementation until we have both ready to go.

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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