France delays Sepa Direct Debit launch

France delays Sepa Direct Debit launch

French banks have pushed back the date for implementation of the Sepa Direct Debit scheme by a year to November 2010, setting the stage for a confrontation with the European Central Bank and the European Commission.

In a communique issued on Wednesday, the French National Sepa Committee said the decision to hold off on implementations stemmed from delays in the transposition of the Payment Services Directive to national law and the need for further investigation and clarification of the economics of new interchange fee levies.

The Committee, which is jointly chaired by the Banque de France and the French Banking Federation, said it would inform the relevant European authorities of its decision.

The move comes less than a month after the European Payments Council agreed on a November 2009 launch date for the implementation of Sepa Direct debits, following a strong push by the ECB and the European Commission.

Speaking in September last year, ECB executive board member Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell said it would "not be acceptable that bankers are not able to deliver the Sepa direct debits by a November 2009 deadline".

Comments: (3)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 04 May, 2009, 02:08Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Oo la la! Shame the European Commission are not located at Waterloo as this looks like shaping up to be a very interesting and historically significant battle. If the French are allowed win this particular confrontation, then perhaps the whole European Payments world will change direction. Compliance is a strange motivation for banks and if one country is allowed to follow a different timetable, it would hardly be surprising if other national banking associations also ask for more time. Undermining the authority of the ECB and the EC in such a public way will be a bitter pill for the authorities to swallow. How untypical of the French to put national interest before the good of Europe. Remind me? What was the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo last time?

Gary Wright
Gary Wright 04 May, 2009, 17:22Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Well said Keith

SEPA as i have said so many times is weak and uninforcable without sanctions. Is Europe together or really fragmented. Sanctions or not against the French would prove the answer



A Finextra member
A Finextra member 14 May, 2009, 17:03Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

The recent announcement from the French National SEPA Committee that the country will implement the SEPA Direct Debit (SDD) scheme one year after the official deadline of November this year really comes as no surprise. Back in November last year, the French banks highlighted confusion over tariffs as a reason for suspending the launch of the new pan-European payment services, so the scene was already set.

While the French banks are the first to publicly state a non-compliance with SEPA Direct Debits by the common deadline of November 2009, it's clear to all involved in the migration to a pan-European direct debit that it has not been a smooth path to tread. The confusion over interchange fees for Direct Debits, and cards, coupled with the absence of an end-date for legacy payments systems has meant that many banks have lost interest and indeed a sense of urgency to meet the looming SEPA deadlines. Furthermore, a general antipathy towards SEPA has set in, fuelled by more pressing concerns such as the credit crunch. Indeed, Sweden has recently delayed transposing into national law the Payments Services Directive (PSD) - the legal framework for SEPA. It is only by all contributors pulling together that we shall realise the benefits of the SEPA schemes and the longer we struggle, the more painful it will be for all concerned.

Yet whilst these developments clearly represent a setback for the progression of the European payments framework, I don't believe that the announcement from the French National SEPA Committee will open the floodgates for others to follow suit. Why? Because ultimately, SEPA will create tangible opportunities for both banks and their corporate customers. For example, SEPA creates opportunities for corporates to become more efficient and consolidate their systems and processes by rationalising the number of bank accounts they hold. This more standardised approach to euro payments will potentially allow them to grow their international customer base without adding extra, national complications.

Despite the benefits, it is clear that certain obstacles still need to be overcome. National legacy systems remain an obvious barrier to SEPA take-up, as many organisations, for example, will not be able to handle the conversion from the domestic Basic Bank Account Numbers (BBANs) they currently hold on their payment database to the IBAN and BIC format required under SEPA, without which rejected payments and knock-on penalties could result.

Yet, such obstacles can and must be overcome so that the industry can reap the fruits of its labour vis-à-vis the money, effort and time already invested in the SEPA programme. I believe that, despite the current economic uncertainty, banks and the industry need to remain focussed on the end-goal of SEPA and recognise the ultimate benefits and opportunities that a single euro payments area will create for the entire banking and business communities.

Jonathan Williams
Director of Strategic Development, Experian Payments