During the past decade, the European Union in co-operation with Regulators and the banking industry, have worked together to realize the Single Euro Payments Area (Sepa).
SEPA strives towards an elimination of any differences between national and cross-border payments in euro within the member states. Realizing SEPA, which scope includes giro, card and e-payments, requires far-reaching standardization of the various interfaces between consumers, businesses, banks and processors in the field of payments. For giro payments this standardisation has been achieved through rulebooks and implementation guidelines. The market adoption has been boosted through the end-date regulation forbidding the use of domestic instruments in euro beyond 1/2/2014.
In its recent green paper ("Towards an integrated European market for card, internet and mobile payments"), the European Commission concluded that integration of the European payment card market is far from complete and tangible results are still limited. The EC's opinion is that the lack of standardization in this field hampers further integration of the card market and blocks the way towards further efficiency. Such standards are however available.
The Cards Standardisation Programme, managed by the European Payments Council (EPC), created the SEPA Cards Standardisation Volume - Book of Requirements (also known as "the Volume") back in 2007. Management and further evolution of these requirements is currently the responsibility of the Cards Stakeholders Group (CSG). Translation of requirements into detailed and interoperable specifications was left to market players.
In parallel with the EPC's and CSG's developments, players in the Benelux developed a comprehensive solution that satisfies not only the "Volume's" requirements, but also responds to a broader set of market demands. These specifications, under the name C-TAP, were put into practice as of 2004 and managed by local organizations in the Benelux. A key element is the multi-brand and multi-acquirer functionality, allowing a merchant to operate a single terminal to connect to multiple acquirers. Currently C-TAP is deployed in over 400.000 terminals in the Benelux and beyond, supporting over 30 brands and processing over 3 billion transactions annually. See attached fact sheet for more details.
In order to align the governance of the scheme with SEPA requirements, the major stakeholders in the card industry started to consolidate the national management bodies into a new pan-European terminal specification and certification body. The resulting organization was incorporated in 2011 under the name Acquiris, a not for profit foundation, with the following objectives:
To centralise the ownership and licensing of the Intellectual Property Rights linked to terminal specifications in order to allow a controlled evolution in line with open governance principles. Members are granted a free license for the commercial usage of the common specifications;
In line with the members' requirements and market evolution, to maintain and extend these common specifications. This will involve the regular publications of extensions and modifications in line with a commonly agreed lifecycle model;
To make these specifications available to all authorised parties that require them in line with membership and licensing agreements;
To promote these common specifications for their implementation and usage, with a priority to the Single Euro Payment Area (further referred to as SEPA);
To represent the interests of these common specifications with regulators;
Membership of Acquiris is open to acquirers, processors and terminal vendors. Current members of Acquiris include Equens, CCV, Atos Worldline, Alvira, Alpha Card (American Express), the Bancontact-MisterCash scheme, B+S Card Service, BePax, BuyWay, Chess, Edenred, Elavon, Europabank, European Merchant Services, Loyaltek, Paysquare, Quality Equipment, Cetrel-SIX, Sodexo and Verifone.