As individual European nations forge a real-time, digital-first payments environment, they raise the bar for all financial institutions conducting business in the Eurozone. Instant payments have become the normality, and it’s no longer a question of “what’s
the business case for implementation?” but a matter of how instant payments players can take advantage of the opportunities now being created.
At a recent gathering of European payments leaders in Germany, it was established that instant payments are essential to banks’ business success, and without it, banks would struggle to compete in an increasingly digital world. Joe Beltrán, director of business
development at STET, The French- and Belgian-based pan-European instant payments service provider stated that “If you don’t fully engage with instant payments, then your competitors are going to take your business,”.
As financial services players consider their options for instant payments, reachability will be key. The European Central Bank has clearly stated that complete pan-European reach is the goal of its real-time settlement solution (TIPS), offering access to
any TARGET and TARGET2 scheme bank members, as well as indirect access models for instructing and reachable
parties. Even among well-established banks, there is a need to keep pace with the competitive curve, and that includes both instant payments and the new real-time experiences that ride on the real-time rails.
Another major player in the European market, the European Banking Association (EBA), which has a strong track record in processing pan-European payments with its ACH and same-day settlement services, has achieved significant growth since the launch of its
real-time settlement solution (RT1) in 2017. The span of RT1 is already increasing with more than 2,000 PSPs (payment service providers) currently reachable.
EBA announced its Request to Pay (R2P) Task Force with the aim of developing a pan-European R2P solution focused on delivering value for the payer and payee.
This value is in the overlay services that create certainty and transparency in payments, particularly around bill payment and reconciliation. It seems that the EBA feels the need for more than just speed.
Real-time challenges: What is facing the European payments market
For individual countries that are yet to implement a domestic real-time scheme, the temptation can be to pretend that instant payments are a future challenge. Modern life has evolved, and with it, customer expectations. German and French consumers may not
yet have experienced domestic real-time payments, but they are active participants in the digital ecosystem, which is predicated on real-time information. It is naïve to think that banks can provide market-leading customer experience without taking advantage
of all the rich-data opportunities afforded by real-time payments.
But the question remains, which clearing and settlement mechanism (CSM) should banks connect to? Helmut Wacket, head of division at the European Central Bank suggests that banks should ask themselves how they want to contribute and leverage instant payments.
It’s true that each CSM offers a unique set of benefits, and when we reflect on the reachability factor, the answer is clear – ultimately, banks need to be connected to multiple schemes and CSMs, whether directly or indirectly.
For banks just getting started with instant payments, connecting to every pan-European CSM and domestic scheme from day one is not feasible. What banks need is a quick way to get up and running with instant payments – beginning with a pan-European scheme
even if there is not yet a domestic option – in a way that maximises current and future reach. A tactical move now, with a clear long-term strategy, will go a long way towards avoiding creating technical debt or adding complexity to the business.
Reducing complexity is closely linked to liquidity management, a critical piece of the real-time puzzle. Each CSM has benefits for banks, so it’s a question of how it aligns to the bank’s business model. The EBA has operated a Deferred Net Settlement model
for EURO1/STEP1 payments, or individual RTGS payments. The addition of TIPS with real-time settlement is a new model.
By comparison, the ECB has a global approach to liquidity management, which is currently a differentiator for TIPS. If a bank already has accounts at the ECB for other CSMs, they may find they need to hold lower deposits in each one. Moving liquidity between
accounts against fluid business requirements may be easier if they are all at the same bank under the Central Liquidity Management (CLM) system linking together ECB’s real-time gross settlement (T2),
securities settlement (T2S) and EBA’s TIPS.
These CSMs have ways to connect with each other, so your first connection does not need to be your only one. That inter-CSM connectivity may in fact be via a third party; ACI Worldwide, for example, provides connectivity for STET to both the EBA and ECB.
The solution bridges the gap between the different CSMs to provide ease of connectivity to the banks that are connecting to STET. Banks can start with a single gateway to the CSM that meets their immediate needs and customer demands, and grow their connectivity
and services with the business.
Any solution that connects a bank to its first instant payments CSM needs to be able to incorporate connections to additional schemes and CSMs to support the launch of new instant payments and provide a pathway to maximum reachability. It must also scale
to the transaction volumes that will arise because of instant payments, especially as we enter “wave 2” of the real-time evolution and create new open API-enabled services that ride the real-time rails. Figures show that there has been a 10 percent year-on-year
growth of U.K. Faster Payments since it launched. This is predicted to rise as high as 25 percent as a result of open banking. Banks across Europe therefore need to be prepared to capitalise on this opportunity.