EPI pan-European payment project focuses on instant payments

After abandoning the idea of creating a card in March, the pan-European payment service project European Payment Initiative (EPI) is refocusing on instant payments and digital wallets. The project's new orientations are due to be approved at a meeting scheduled for December 9.

Instant payment at the heart of the EPI project

Initially, the EPI project envisaged the development of a European card scheme, which would have unified the various national schemes, such as the CB (Carte Bancaire) scheme in France. One of the main objectives was to offer an alternative to the giants MasterCard and Visa, which dominate the cross-border payments sector in the euro zone.

However, the lack of agreement between the various parties and the withdrawal of a number of banks from the consortium - now down to 13 from the original 30 - forced EPI to scale back its ambitions.

The EPI project is currently entering a new phase, and is refocusing on instant payment and digital wallet solutions, which are less cumbersome to set up.

A meeting on this subject is scheduled for December 9, to define the new direction of the project, which will probably be based on an existing solution. Several names are circulating, including the Dutch company iDEAL, which is the first in-store mobile payment solution in the Netherlands, and the Belgian Bancontact Payconiq.

The cost of the EPI project, initially estimated at 1.3 billion euros, would be considerably reduced by the use of an existing solution, bringing the bill down to 500 million euros. However, the number of EPI shareholder banks has also fallen, and only institutions from the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France and Luxembourg remain part of the consortium.

Support from the Comité national des moyens de paiement

The 6 French banks involved in the EPI project - Société Générale, La Banque Postale, BPCE, BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Crédit Mutuel - benefit from the support of the CNMP (Comité national des moyens de paiement), formed from the merger of the Comité de pilotage de la filière fiduciaire and the Comité national des paiements scripturaux.

At its first meeting on Monday November 14, the Comité National des Means de Paiement stressed the importance of setting up a pan-European payment solution, with a view to ensuring sovereignty.

The CNMP has set itself 4 priorities for the next 2 years:

  • the smooth operation of the fiduciary chain,
  • support for innovation in everyday payments,
  • the modernization of administrative and professional payments,
  • strengthening European payments.

In the press release issued at the end of the meeting, the Comité national des moyens de paiement mentions the European Commission's draft regulation on instant payments: presented at the end of October, this text aims to oblige all banks in the European Union to offer an instant payment service in euros at no extra cost compared with standard credit transfers.

Instant payments are currently struggling to take off in Europe, accounting for just 11% of all euro transfers within the EU. In France, while their number has doubled in the space of a year, they remain well below the European average, accounting for 5.6% of euro transfers.

The European Commission's draft regulation has a dual objective:

  • enable better circulation of the 200 billion euros that pass through the financial system every day, so that investment and consumption benefit;
  • make it easier for households and businesses to manage their cash flow.

According to the Comité national des moyens de paiement, the EPI project could play an important role in the development of instant payments.