European Parliament adopts SEPA – What Sari said

Cross-border bank transfers should become faster, cheaper and safer for EU citizens thanks to "single European payments area" legislation passed by Parliament on Tues...

February 14, 2012

Cross-border bank transfers should become faster, cheaper and safer for EU citizens thanks to “single European payments area” legislation passed by Parliament on Tuesday.

EU-wide rules to ensure that banks compete fairly, eliminate hidden national charges, and accelerate transfers could save up to €123 billion within six years, benefitting clients, banks, and businesses.

Sari Essayah, European Parliament

“This regulation really benefits citizens. It will enable them to make payments from one bank account to others all over Europe, just like a normal domestic payment. It will be possible to make all cross-border credit transfers and direct debits in the same way as normal domestic payments. A person working abroad will not need to open a new bank account in the host country, but may receive his or her salary in the home country bank account. Companies will benefit too, by not needing more than one bank account in Europe for each payment purpose”, said SEPA rapporteur Sari Essayah (EPP, FI).

The single European payments area (SEPA) regulation lays down common rules and standards for euro credit and direct debit transactions among banks. It would not apply to personal credit or debit card payments.

Requiring banks to comply with SEPA rules will enable their clients to use a single bank account to make euro payments to and from all SEPA countries.

To this end, the rules will ensure that euro credit transfers or direct debits that are possible within SEPA countries are also possible across frontiers between them.

The legally-binding deadline for banks to migrate to the new system is 1 February 2014. Parliament’s negotiators insisted on a single deadline for all euro credit and debit payments to make the switch to the new system easier to understand for EU citizens.

Benefits to citizens

For EU citizens, it will no longer matter in which Member State a bank account is held. Transfers should become cheaper, faster and safer.

For example, EU citizens moving within the Union could use a single euro account, into which a salary earned in another country could be paid. They could also pay bills in one country through an account held in another.

All account users stand to gain, because international competition among service providers should drive down prices. Increased competition among banks to supply services should also help to cut today’s inflated costs, and where costs are already low, they should remain so.

Parliament’s negotiators sought to make the migration to SEPA standards easier for bank clients, by enabling banks to offer conversion services from national systems and to phase out the need to provide the Business Identifier Code (BIC) code (the IBAN international bank account number should suffice).

Another gain is a requirement to apply non-discriminatory charges to transfers, irrespective of the amount involved.

Benefits to businesses

Businesses could set up cross-border direct debits in euro between any two bank accounts anywhere in the EU, enabling them to bill customers regularly across borders.

By eliminating multilateral interchange fees on cross-border direct debits as of 2012, the regulation will enable businesses to establish their payment centres in any EU Member State.

Businesses could also organise all cross-border euro payments from a single euro account in a country of their choice in order to improve money management and speed up cash flows at lower cost.

The new legislation was adopted in the first reading with 635 votes in favour, 17 against and 31 abstentions.

What Sari Essayah said

SEPA is extremely important for Europe’s Internal Market. This is very good news for the European Union”, said Sari Essayah MEP, EPP Group Rapporteur, after her Report on the technical requirements for credit transfers and direct debits in Euros was adopted today at the plenary session of the European Parliament.

In the future, there will be no need for companies and individuals to have several bank accounts within the single payments area. Within the SEPA, consumers can transfer money as easily to another account in another Member State as to an account in their own Member State.

“SEPA will make the payments sector more effective and will increase competition. It also creates favourable conditions for Europe-wide implementation of innovations”, explained Ms Essayah. “Referring to the impact study published by the European Commission, the European economy as a whole will benefit by €123 billion over the next six years.”

The deadline for the changeover to the new system for both SEPA credit transfers and direct debits will be 1 February 2014. However, the same deadline will be 30 October 2016 in those Member States who are not part of the Eurozone. From 1 February 2014 onwards, common standards are required to be used by all banks, most importantly where IBAN and BIC codes are concerned.

“There are a lot of benefits for consumers in the SEPA: using a debit card anywhere in the Eurozone, direct debit from anywhere in the Eurozone, lower prices for basic payment services in high-cost countries, transparent pricing and no hidden charges, to mention only a few of the benefits”, said Sari Essayah.

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