Looking back after 10 years of SEPA

26/02/2018

| 26-02-2018 | Paul Stheeman |

Last month we saw the anniversary of several historical moments. 1000 years ago, in January 1018 the Peace of Bautzen ended the German-Polish War. More recently, in January 1998, American President Bill Clinton surprised the world by denying in a press conference that he had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. More importantly for Treasurers and the citizens of Europe January 2018 marks the tenth anniversary of the establishment of SEPA, the Single European Payments Area.

In Europe we have become used to SEPA. Initially we all groaned at the idea of having 22-digit long bank accounts numbers called the IBAN, nicknamed as “IBAN the Terrible”. But the introduction of SEPA in January 2008 has brought a number of benefits to over 520 million citizens in Europe. Not only are the 19 Eurozone countries members of SEPA. All other EU countries participate as well as countries such as Norway or Switzerland.

The main benefit is that we now have one payment zone. Previously, making a transfer from Italy to the Netherlands was a cross-border payment. This meant that a whole week could pass between the time when the payer initiated the transfer in Italy and the recipient actually received the funds on his Dutch bank account. In addition, banks in both countries would charge considerable fees for making the transfer. Payment is now done within 24 hours and banks should not charge more than for a domestic payment.

SEPA not only covers transfers. Direct debits and debit cards also are handled in a similar manner through SEPA. And a new instant payment scheme is currently being rolled out, allowing payments to be completed within seconds on a 24/7/365 basis.

SEPA is also strongly regulated. The European Commission established the legal foundation through the Payment Services Directive or PSD. Payment products are overseen as are technical standards.

In the last ten years SEPA has established itself as being the platform for payments in Europe. Due to its wide acceptance and success in its first decade it is likely to accompany us for many years ahead as new payment methods are developed in the digitalised world.

Paul Stheeman – owner of STS – Stheeman Treasury Solutions GmbH

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