The European Payments Council has called on EU authorities to initiate a Sepa communications campaign "comparable to that afforded for the euro introduction" to kick start public support for the Single Euro Payments Area project.
The political call to arms was laid down in Brussels as the bank-backed EPC officially launched the Sepa Core and Business to Business Direct Debit schemes, three weeks ahead of the 2 November release date for the new payments instruments across the euro zone.
The EPC says that to-date 2607 banks representing about 70% of Sepa payment volumes have signed up to the new schemes and are ready to roll-out Sepa Direct Debit services from 2 November 2009 onwards. Of those, 2366 banks are offering both SDD Core and SDD B2B services.
All branches of banks in the euro area must be reachable for Sepa Core Direct Debit by 1 November 2010 as mandated by the EU Regulation on cross-border payments in the community.
The introduction of Direct Debits comes eighteen months after the launch of Sepa Credit Transfers, which currently account for a bare 4.4% of all euro area credit transfers.
EPC Chair Gerard Hartsink says: "Moving forward, the focus must be on accelerating migration to the new euro payment instruments. Firstly, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and EU governments should implement a Sepa communication campaign comparable to that afforded for the euro introduction. Secondly, public administrations - accountable for up to 20% of electronic payments made in society - must speed up implementation."
Moving public sector payments to Sepa will create critical mass and trigger implementation by other market participants, he says.
Earlier this month, the European Commission said it would consider setting a deadline for the migration of national payment schemes to Sepa after a public consultation exercise showed widespread support for the move.
While payments users have expressed concerns about quality issues relating to direct debits and the need for enough time to become acquainted with the new products, the initiative has been warmly received by EPC.
Says Harsink: "An end date for phasing out legacy euro payment instruments creates awareness, ensures planning security for all market participants and confirms the commitment to making Sepa a reality."