Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Eurosystem's view of a SEPA for cards

Quite interesting. The world of cards is already a worldwide business since quite some years. And here we have a bunch of central banks in euro-countries focusing on a suboptimization issue: how to allow similar types of payments in euro-countries with cards. See the Eurosystems view on SEPA for Cards. One might wonder: have they been sleeping all the time when banks were developing cross-border usage of debit-cards?

And another question: why suddenly the concern with consolidation. First the eurosystem insisted on one card-one terminal and harmonisation of features in the cards-world. Then suddenly as this materializes, there is the fear that it may not be a good thing to increase standardisation and allow for consolidation.

And a final remark. This is another annoying example of institutional drift. We set up the Eurosystem to do just one thing: determine monetary policy and operate a gross-settlement system used as a mechanism for executing money market policies. Over time, as any good institution apparently wishes, the eurosystem seeked to grab more territory by making statements, policy reports and implying that it retail payments are also within its remit. But I resent that drift. Retail payments are mere peanuts that will not shock the monetary engine whatsoever. So why bother about retail and card payments as the Eurosystem?

Isn't it more relevant to European efficiency in payments that cash payments be properly priced and kicked out as a very dirty, costly payment mechanism? That we get rid of the physical euro as soon as possible? That would be a more important issue that falls within the eurosystem remit. But alas, that would also be too impopular a statement and would not be good for the image of central banks. So rather the Eurosystem chooses to make cheap and easy statements on the neighbours grass than weed its own.

An opportunity missed...