by Corina Mihalache
Long time has the subject of creating a single payment area at the European level been debated. It took eight years for the largest project for European payments standardization to be prepared and launched in February 2008 and another eight years to be implemented. The deadline for non-Euro countries financial market’s players – banks, financial institutions, public administration and corporations – to be compliant with payments processing regulations is October 2016. It is when we’ll be finally able to say SEPA (Single Euro Payment Area) is real.
The question is: are the Romanian financial market’s players ready for October 2016? I’m not going to continue with the radiography of the initiative’s implementation status, but rather reiterate its importance.
For a long time, SEPA has been considered an initiative coming from the banking system, better said an initiative that had to be applied by the financial institutions. The end beneficiaries were, though, their clients – companies and individuals. If the benefits were rather obvious for the individual end customer (the possibility for the European consumer to perform payments with the same conditions, irrespective of his location), without any kind of personal involvement required, this is not the case for the companies.
The SEPA regulations refer to companies as well: it is mandatory for them to implement the SEPA schemes and rules by October 2016. Several questions arise as preparation is under way:
Each of the above mentioned represents an important phase in companies’ getting ready for SEPA compliance. Regulating the way financial transactions are done, although implemented at the financial institutions level, is something new for the companies.
The “automatic” dialogue between companies and partner banks is performed in so different manners, as each financial institution has its own requirements. An important aspect of the SEPA initiative is enforcing a single method of communication between companies and the financial institutions, by using the ISO20022 standard for payment initiation / direct debit requests.
For financial institutions, far more accustomed with using various communication standards, at interbank level at least, implementing a standard – be it SEPA – at customer level as well is no news. Besides, many of them have already announced having completed the SEPA implementation project, at both interbank and customer-bank levels.
From companies’ perspective, a standard implementation process is a very arduous one, similar to learning a foreign language. It requires a thorough preparation and a lot of practice. To put it more technically: it requires impact analysis, defining requirements, updates/acquisition, implementation and testing.
Given the SEPA compliance deadline, October 2016, besides updating all internal applications for conformity, we would suggest two new alternatives:
For both alternatives, I suggest a name: FinTP, the financial transactions processing solution developed by Allevo that ensures the compliance with SEPA standards, as well as the centralizing of all financial transactions.
EBAday is the annual forum organized by the Euro Banking Association and Finextra Research, the leading independent newswire and information source for the worldwide financial technology community. Each year payments professionals from across Europe gather for this event.
This year it was time for the 9th edition of EBAday and the chosen venue was Finlandia Hall in Helsinki. As already accustomed, the conference has set a main theme for the event - A New Era of Transformation and Convergence for Banks – as basis for the sessions, panel debates and discussions within the exhibitor area.
Last year, in Berlin, EBAday’s focus was on SEPA compliance. This year, more than 50 of Europe's leading figures in payments discussed about the new challenges in the transaction business in Europe. As usual, the President of EBA opened the conference, accompanied by the representative of this year’s local main sponsor, Nordea. Andrew Tarver, Founder of BoldRocket and CEO Capco was next, having the role of challenge speaker. During his provocative opening plenary, Tarver taunted the audience of bankers, payments specialists and IT providers, comparing them to “cavemen” in their use of technology, incapable of keeping the pace with the services consumer, the one actually in control and the one setting the trend. “If the industry were to draw together, it would have a dramatic effect on the financial services world,” he said. “It’s like Lego – you are not going to own the whole set; you have to decide which Lego blocks are yours and let everyone play with them.”
The next sessions had everyone agreeing that in today’s business environment focus should be on the end customer, thus putting regulations compliance second. Nevertheless, customers’ expectations to have 24/7 access to instant payments seem far from the actual truth on the ground, as when expected to discuss practical solutions, the banks continued to talk about mobile payments and the advantages that come with SEPA implementation.
The conference’s panel debates program was complemented by a very active exhibitors’ area, where participants could network with a complete spectrum of leading banks, ACHs, technology vendors and consultancies. For the 6th year in a row, Allevo has been among the exhibitors, thus having the opportunity to meet old partners again, but also to grow interest in people less familiar with our solutions. And we have been inspired this year, as our main proposed topic – the FinTP project and FINkers United, the open source community around it – has been the prime attraction in Allevo stand discussions. Officially launching FinTP project and code beginning of this year constitutes the first step towards creating a new standardization layer that will push financial transactions interoperability forward.
It was the first EBAday since we published FinTP on GitHub, therefore the first occasion to officially launch the invite to evaluate the application and to join FINkers United. Both technology vendors and financial experts showed interest in discovering the advantages that come with adhering to this community.
Maybe for the first at an international conference, which talks about the customer as a god, not only a king and about the regulatory compliance as necessary, but not critical from business perspective, FinTP was not seen as an act of insanity. The idea of collaborating and sharing resources within a community set on developing a financial transactions processing application that shall not count as a competitive differentiator in the new business environment does not seem so farfetched anymore. Instead, it creates the premises so that the supremacy battle will be all about who offers the best quality financial products and services to the end customer, as it should be.
This is what our CEO, Corina Mihalache emphasized also during the interview she gave for EBAday TV. EBAday TV consists of a set of interviews produced by Finextra, presenting the most important news in the finance technology industry. Ms. Mihalache talked about the biggest challenges in building an open source community in such a highly regulated financial environment and the role of FinTP in the future of financial transactions processing.
Participating to EBAday this year also served, among others, to our preparation for the main event of the year in the financial market – Sibos 2014 at Boston.