Monday, May 08, 2006

Is the discussion on critical mass for SEPA critical ?

In a uncanny demonstration of unity and shared vision, the European Central Bank and European Commission published this joint statement on the Single Euro Payment AREA (SEPA).

Essentially they applaud the work of the European Payments Council on SEPA but then go on to raise a warnnig finger:
The delivery of SEPA instruments is only the first step, since the introduction of the instruments as a mere cross-border payment solution would not result in a genuinely integrated market at the level of the Euro area. In particular, a critical mass of national credit transfers, direct debits and card payments should have migrated to SEPA payment instruments by the end of 2010.

Furthermore we read:
The Commission and the ECB support to the greatest possible extent continued self-regulation by the industry, but given the importance and the size of the social and economic benefits of SEPA, the Commission expressly reserves the right to introduce or propose necessary legislation to achieve it.

With the term critical mass the joint statement refers to a term that has been first used by the European Payments Council itself, in their April 05 press-statement:
We are also convinced that a critical mass of transactions will naturally migrate to these payment instruments by 2010 such that SEPA will be irreversible through the operation of market forces and network effects.

So the most critical discussion in the next years is about the understanding of the term: critical mass. Is it 2 %, 20 %, 80 %? Should this be calculated on a domestic level (at least 15 % in all euro countries) or is it already critical if some countries have irreversibly moved to epc-payments while others take their time (but are bound to follow, due to network effects....)?

And last but not least: does this topic have sufficient critical mass to interest the public whatsoever? Despite all the policy bla-bla most customers don't have a serious issue with their cross-border EU-payments. At least not since regulation 2560. So what's all this SEPA-fuss about anyway.