Friday, January 08, 2016

A new FAQ for PSD2 would be very useful to harmonise interpretations across Europe

The second Payment Services Directive, published end of December last year, is an important and welcome next in the further integration of payment services in Europe. In order to achieve a true European level playing field ‘on the ground’, a clarifying FAQ for those who prepare its implementation today would be very welcome.

A FAQ that explains how the PSD2 definitions will apply in all Member states to the variety of business models and transaction mechanisms observed, will enhance the purported level playing field. This harmonised guidance is just as important as the FAQ/guidance provided for the first PSD. Both regulators and the market have further developed since PSD1 and it is essential to recognise some of the underlying dynamics and developments of the payments market.  

1. Out of scope, limited network or regulated?
At present, member states use the harmonised PSD-rules to determine whether or not a certain business model defines as a payment activity or can be categorised as an exemption. Both in terms of content and process, the approaches vary considerably between supervisors. The feedback of supervisors varies from an elaborate argumentation to merely the brief outcome of an internal review process. 

Also in terms of content, the approaches vary. Business models that are out of scope in one member state may be exempt or require a license in others. The lack of a central register of supervisory statements on those matters makes this hard to identify, but the PSD2 will change this. All business activity exempted under article 3k and 3l, must be notified and the exemption decision will be published in a central register.

The practical consequence is that market participants can more easily determine which business models are exempted in which countries. This means that the supervisors must ensure that their qualifications are well-grounded and harmonised. One of the major challenges in this respect is to take into account the technological and market developments.

2. Technological developments: open and device-agnostic
Just one look at a user’s technical environment demonstrates that the major trend in payment technology development is the move from closed, bespoke systems and standards to more open structures. Whereas previously payment providers would control (sometimes own) all technological instruments to be used in a payment transaction, this is no longer the case.

The future infrastructure setting is one in which consumers and merchants will use their own technical device, and providers need to ensure that it can be used safely. We can now see card-based payments, where no plastic is used anymore, as the payment is made via a virtual card application in the mobile phone or PC. At the same time, in the back-office, the systems are opening up to the outside world via Application Programming Interface’s (APIs). Rather than having one instrument that operates as a shopping and a payments tool simultaneously, we can see that the value chain of search, shop and pay can be arranged via modularized interfacing of channels and technologies.

Therefore, when assessing the qualification of the technologies in todays payments, an open and functional approach is required. The classical approach, in which one tries to find the main device (such as a card) that services as the payment instrument and then builds the further classification of a system around that instrument, will no longer work. There will be all kinds of devices and technical tools and while some may classify as payment instruments, others may not.

Fortunately, the definition of payment instrument in the payment services directive enables this functional approach. The definition mentions both ‘a personalized device’ and/or a ‘set of procedures’ to be viewed and defined as the payment instrument:
"payment instrument" means a personalised device(s) and/or set of procedures agreed
between the payment service user and the payment service provider and used in order
to initiate a payment order;

3. Where is the commerce and where is the payment transaction?
As technology slices up the commercial value chain, we should note the relevance of the last element of the definition of payment instrument: ‘to initiate a payment order’. There is a clear difference between the commercial use of devices for purchases (apps, shopping carts on the web, nfc-identification devices) and the later moment in which aggregated purchases are actually being paid. This can be compared to the difference between the shopping cart/button on a website and the payment button.

The main question to ponder is therefore: does the technology service allow the user to make a payment to any other payee in Europe (under the SEPA-rules) and is the transaction actually a payment order, or is it merely a shopping transaction, with payments being arranged later on.

I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next years, we will witness a shift away from devices as the actual payment instrument. It may be more suitable to put the (user) accounts centre stage as the actual payment instrument. When applied by retailer organisations, such a choice will enable them to build a multi-channel sales-channel in which the device used is irrelevant. The sales channel aggregates purchase transactions towards the user account at the retailer. In cases where the retailer merely aggregates these purchases and initiates a direct debit for the total sum to be paid, this remains an administrative account as the actual payment account in the process is that of the bank. Only in cases where actual payments orders are initiated from such an account, it would become the payment account as well as the payment instrument for the commercial transactions.

It is crucial to distinguish the commercial from the payment process domain when evaluating apps and identification tools on the market. The actual payments can be expected to become the afterthought of commerce, rather than a primary service. These can flow via a payment account in the background, which is provided by retailer, bank or payment service provider. It is that account that will then function as the payment instrument in the commercial transaction and not the purchase device/application used. Supervisors should thus not immediately label ‘the card’ or any specific technical tool in a commercial business model as the payment instrument.

4. Areas and definitions of interest for the application of the PSD2
We’ve seen that the democratisation of technology allowed non-bank payment service providers to enter the payment space. Among those will also be retailers that can leverage the technology to provide a better customer experience. If those retailers are to use a services and customer contract with a monthly SEPA-direct debit agreement in the background, the payment services directive will not be relevant for them.

Similarly there is the question whether the payments services directive would have to apply to intermediary web-based platform companies that help users transact among themselves. Such business models could be in or out of scope based on the interpretation whether:
- the payments are seen as a regular occupation or business activity (art 1,2b),
- the agency model applies,
- the new definition of acquiring applies,
- the limited network exemption applies.

I hope that the collective of regulatory players involved in the transposition and application of the PSD2 will succeed in addressing those scoping and definitions issues early-on. In this respect the publication of a FAQ on those issues, may be a very effective tool to clarify and ensure the level playing field.