At the heart of the European Commission’s Retail Payments Strategy lies the ambition to bolster progress toward instant payments, calling for a full uptake via SEPA Instant Credit Transfers (SCT Inst) by the end of 2021.
More than 50 instant payment schemes currently exist around the world, and while the manner in which consumer payments leverage instant payments is becoming apparent, the way in which corporate payments and wider integration of instant payments will grow
remains to be seen.
Pressure to assess and deliver real-time capabilities with SCT Inst is mounting as financial institutions in Europe and across the globe are looking for the most efficient and lucrative ways to implement instant payments.
What are the factors helping and hindering this instant payment uptake, and importantly, how much progress have we really made?
Instant payments to drive competition
Time and time over the payments industry has been told that instant payments itself holds the key not only towards delivering the ‘instant’ expectation of retail and corporate customers, but also provide certainty of payment, enhanced transparency, a more
competitive and open market (in combination of Open Banking), and even faster access to government stimulus payments.
McKinsey notes that the pandemic-induced acceleration of the move from physical to virtual banking drove a fundamental shift
in adoption of technologies, while investment in instant payments have begun to reap greater benefits – both in POS and e-commerce usage of instant solutions.
While organisations may have felt the need to prioritise Covid-19 contingency plans during 2020, appetite for instant payments is abundant. As of February 2021, EBA CLEARING notes that
its instant SEPA credit transfer infrastructure RT1 boasts an average daily volume of 998,991 transactions, worth an average €598 million. In February 2020, this figure was around half the current levels: 504,669 at an average daily value of €226 million.
These numbers underscore the reality that the tone of the ‘instant payments conversation’ has evolved. Discussion of the impact and significance of instant payments cannot overlook the sheer volume of transactions which have shifted and the momentum towards
instant payments in the wake of Covid-19.
Key instant payments obstacles
While significant progress has been made away from cash payments toward digital, integration across payments systems still needs improvement.
Another factor relevant to the success of instant payments is the impending PSD2 review which may have implications for instant payments in the context of new types of fraud. Strengthening the payer’s protection and regulating chargeback procedures, may
have the effect of making instant payments closer to card transactions in nature.
Developing cross-currency instant payments is also raised among industry experts, alongside the need to establish links between the payment systems processing instant payments in euro and those of other relevant currencies.
P27 is being held as the poster child of championing a multi-currency, integrated solution providing instant payments within the Nordics. CEO Lars Sjogren
commented in 2020 that the European Commission and EU’s decision to add instant payments to their roadmap in parallel to P27 will be a positive for the Nordics, “because it is bringing a lot of attention to the real-time payments environment.”.
“I don’t see any conflict. In fact, when the European Union describes their retail payments strategy, they mention P27 as an example of an interesting and important regional initiative.”
Where are we seeing instant payments traction?
Given the timeline and market pressure, it isn’t entirely surprising that the number of partnerships between large financial institutions, payments providers and technology firms are growing.
On the recent announcement that Fidor would partner with SIA to deliver instant payments services across Germany, Fidor CEO Michael Maier
stated: “We are very pleased to partner with SIA to offer our clients a fully integrated Instant SEPA Payment Solution within our digital platform.”
The platform will allow European financial institutions and their customers to send and receive payments in less than 10 seconds for a maximum amount currently set at 100,000 euros per individual transaction, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in line with
the SEPA Instant Credit Transfer scheme of the European Payments Council (EPC).
Instant payments will be a core topic discussed at the Euro Banking Association and Finextra’s EBAday 2021. Running in digital format on 28-30 June for its sixteenth year, the event will welcome a host of board directors, chief executive officers and
payments and technology heads from Europe’s leading banks, and registration is now open.