Over three quarters (80%) of debit cardholders in Europe want to be able to use their debit cards uniformly across the euro zone, but fewer than one in ten are aware that the introduction of the single euro payments area (Sepa) in 2008 will allow them to do so, according to research commissioned by MasterCard.
The study of 3000 debit cardholders in Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland and the UK, undertaken by KRC Research, found that eight in ten consumers want to be able to use their debit card anywhere in Europe and 73% favour having their existing debit card replaced by one that can be used uniformly across the region.
Although the introduction of Sepa will enable customers to use their payment cards across the euro zone without incurring additional fees, just nine per cent of debit cardholders have heard of the initiative.
Awareness is even lower in The Netherlands, where just two per cent of debit cardholders had heard of Sepa, followed by three per cent in France, five per cent in the UK and Germany and eight per cent in Belgium.
In contrast, one in three (29%) cardholders in Poland - the newest European Union member - had heard of Sepa.
Says Javier Perez, president, MasterCard Europe: "The single euro payments area may currently be a term recognised in finance circles, but what the man-on-the-street needs to know is that they can use their debit card in the same way anywhere in Europe as in their own country.
"As our research shows, consumer awareness of 'Sepa' is low, but there is no doubt that debit cardholders across Europe are completely behind the concept."
After being told what Sepa is, debit cardholders are twice as likely to use their cards to pay for purchases says MasterCard, suggesting that consumer awareness programmes around Sepa can drive debit card usage.
Im January Gerard Hartsink, chair of the European Payments Council (EPC), warned that Europe's banks will miss the first Sepa deadline for direct debits because of delays in passing the new Payment Services Directive (PSD).
Even if the current German EU presidency is able to pass PSD legislation - which was expected to be approved in 2006 - before April 2007 in one reading, Sepa-related direct debit services won't be delivered by banks until Q4 2008.
However since Hartsink made his comments ABN Amro has signed a deal with Pan-European payment processer Equens for the suuply of debit card processing services while German bank WestLB has said it partnering with Internet payments firm ClickandBuy to provide direct debit payment processing services across the euro zone.
The MasterCard research also found that consumers would rather their debit cards to pay for payments ahead of cash, with eight in ten (80%) finding debit cards the more convenient option, while two in three (67%) feel more secure using their debit cards over paper money.