Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Finnius conference on e-money

As some of you may know, I have had quite an interest in electronic money in the Netherlands in the past. And yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the conference on e-money by Finnius. The conference was concise and clear with talks by Andries Doets on the regulation and a speech by the supervisor (DNB: De Nederlandsche Bank). This provided a good overview of rules, exemptions and clarified the role of DNB.

After the beautiful and energizing musical break (Duo Sottovoce) Casper Riekerk moderated a discussion that focussed on business models and the difference between paper-based and digital electronic money. The panel and audience agreed that the margins in the e-money/payments business are quite slim, certainly given the rule that the float cannot be used for other purposes (which happened when giftcards where still paper-based).

At the end, following a suggestion by DNB, the thought of setting up a representative organisation for e-money issuers in the Netherlands came up once again. So perhaps we will see a new organisation emerging as a result of this conference. Time will tell.

Personally I couldn't help thinking that quite a lot of effort by the supervisor is spent on values and amounts of e-money that are irrelevant, compared to the busloads of similar-type payments via mobile phones and Ov-chipcard (exempted from regulation). It is clear that both market and supervisors have digested and codified this exemption into their rules/system. So no one questions it (if anyone still remembers the history of this exemption).

But it remains a paradox for someone like me, who witnessed and joined the discussions on e-money dating from the rise of e-cash and Mondex. It was in particular the digital forms of pre-paid e-money that raised the awareness and need for legislation on e-money. Everyone got a head-ache when they thought of a situation in which money (and goods) were digital. Because this would create a situation in which central banks in the end will not know any more how much money is in circulation. And consumers might see their digital cash disappear if it was not secured properly.

So the headache lead to the legislation on e-money. And when introduced, supervisors decided to create an exemption for precisely that form of money that made us develop the legislation in the first place.

As such I think the whole e-money debate is quite an interesting casebook example of the Politics of the European Union.