Friday, June 01, 2007

Currence: Dutch debit card phased out gradually / ECB re-engineers policy history

The Financieele Dagblad reported on a presentation session that occured yesterday as a part of the presentation of the annual report of Currence: scheme owner of Dutch collective payment products PIN (POS-payment), Chipknip (e-purse), direct debit and acceptgiro (bill-payment). Main news is that Currence announces that it seeks to maintain the brand PIN until the future market situation (in particular fees) is clear.

Essentially this is no news, as banks had already outlined that they would not phase out PIN without looking at market developments and consulting retailers. but still this may provide some comfort to Dutch retailers. Interestingly ECB-policy department chief Ruttenberg stated that he noticed a change in banks' behaviour: while they were first eager to phase out the pin-product, they would now seem to think otherwise. He noted a change in attitude there.

Ruttenbergs' statement can be best viewed as a projection in psychological terms. He notcies a change with the banks, which tells us something about what happens to the ECB. Because the real change in attitude is not with banks but with the ECB. In 2004 the ECB had no clue as to the market reality for cards payments. This speech of Tumpell Gugerell essentially discussed anti-fraud measures and standardisation. Then came the rush to implement SEPA. Both ECB and Commission urged the banks to quickly move towards panEuropean products and phase out domestic products by the end of 2010 (see the speech here). At this time the banks strongly complained about this deadline setting by ECB and outlined the business (interchange fees etc) and customer issues (need for a gradual migration rather than big bangs) involved. So the ECB slowly understood that indeed there was something as interchange issues that could stand in the way.

Then, somewhere in 2005 or 2006, having banged the panEuropean quick migration drum for some years now, the ECB changed its mind and did no longer demand changeover to international schemes. Rather it pursued the idea of a third Euro-scheme to compete with the other schemes (needless to say that VISA already transformed their business in Europe into a European scheme; a fact that has apparently went by unnoticed in Frankfurt). So the analysis from the Frankfurt towers is now that there might be a business case for such a card scheme and that banks should not rush into migration towards US dominated international schemes take over.

It is quite interesting to note that a mere change of responsibilities and roles within the ECB also leads to a re-interpretation of reality by the ECB-policy makers. They now re-engineer the policy history as if banks wanted to go quick and they as ECB need to slow them banks down and point out a different policy option (setting up a third scheme) which some years before, was absolutely not the desired goal of the ECB.

Updated June 8: see also the speeches by the ESCB and Commission.