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Sepa on track, but is it at the right gauge?

After the opening afternoon of the EBAday 2008 payments conference and exhibition, some themes are already emerging. Euro Banking Association chairman Hansjoerg Nymphius opened the conference by reminding attendees that a new era of European payments had begun with the introduction of Sepa credit transfers in January. While it might seem like a small step change, he said with hindsight that it would mark a point where the industry's definition of domestic  markets changed radically.

Petteri Lehtinen, executive vice president and head of corporate merchant banking, Nordea Bank Finland, went on to talk about the collaboration between banks, corporates, regulators and infrastructure suppliers that had already begun - but admitted that far more needs to be done.

He encouraged the banks in the audience to extend the scope of Sepa and to not forget innovation to meet customer demands. Catering the hundreds of corporate representatives in attendance, he was also on-message about what the banks are already doing to address their needs. Yesterday's European Payments Council plenary resolution to support a global creditor reference standard that will help meet corporate demand for cross border e-invoicing and financial supply chain integration was mentioned in the keynotes and later panel sessions. This will be included in the next Sepa rulebook after ISO looks at accepting the standard in September this year.

Harri Nummela, executive vice president, head of banking and investment services, Pohjola Bank added some more local flavour to the keynotes, and also drew out a comparison of current payments standardisation efforts with the industrial-age standardisation of railway gauges. The analogy was fitting and holds up well to scrutiny.

One of the most interesting points was about how future capacity and functional requirements planning needs to be balanced with short term reduction in necessary investment. With the railways we were lucky, he argued, in that the standard railway gauge for most countries (1435mm) is wide enough to support today's bullet trains and the TGV. But when the standards were set in the 1800s it could just as easily have been a narrow gauge, which was more than adequate to support a steam engine and several freight cars at 30mph, but would have severely limited future developments.

In Sepa terms, this relates to where the industry is at today. The banking sector is faced with the choice of just replicating domestic structures and processes at a regional level, or planning to move beyond this - to lay the foundation for future payments innovation and wider economic benefits.

e-invoicing is an immediate focus where the banking and corporate community can see potential benefit. Given this, it is fitting that the event is taking place in Helsinki this year, as Finland has been an innovator in e-invoicing. Today we heard some interesting viewpoints from corporate such as Finnair and Nokia about how well this is working today from a corporate perspective.

I'm looking forward to hearing more tomorrow about how lessons learned in Finland, Norway and Switzerland from e-invoicing can be used to improve the industry's ability to launch a standard cross-border euro e-invoicing capability. But for now, I'm going to venture out into the bright evening sunshine and find myself some Lappish gold (the local equivalent of the amber nectar).


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Elton Cane

Elton Cane

Digital product delivery

News Corp Australia

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16 Feb 2007



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EBAday is the annual event for European payments professionals organised by Finextra and the Euro Banking Association. This community has been created to deliver a forum for EBA delegates to exchange views on instant payments, open banking and new developments in payments processing and technology.

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