Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) Compliance Costing More and Taking Longer Than Expected, According to Accenture Survey

With compliance straining resources, more than 60 percent of respondents say they will use temporary solutions to meet 2008 deadline

Top 100 European banks projected to spend more than €3 billion to comply

LONDON; Sept. 13, 2006 – Compliance with the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) project is driving significant challenges in Europe, with payments industry executives at many of the largest financial institutions reporting much higher estimates of investment costs and fearing that business and technology resources will be stretched as a result, according to a recent Accenture survey.

SEPA, along with related initiatives, is a regulatory effort to simplify and standardize the vast and fragmented payments market in Europe and reduce cross-border hindrances to payments processing. SEPA is affecting all aspects of electronic payments, including card payments, credit transfers and direct debits, thus impacting banks, processors, and their consumer and corporate customers.

More than half of payments industry executives surveyed (62 percent) said SEPA and other regulatory issues are the largest driver of change in the European payments market, compared with 28 percent citing market dynamics.

However, respondents’ ranking of eight proposed viewpoints on the regulation revealed that they see SEPA as more of an opportunity than a compliance requirement. Three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents agreed that SEPA is a “catalyst for change which will accelerate your payments infrastructure transformation plans.” More than half of executives (57 percent) agreed that it is a “project that delivers long overdue harmonisation, standards and improved efficiency.” Only 16 percent of respondents agreed with the notion that SEPA represents “unnecessary change with no business case,” although 27 percent said SEPA is a “high-risk project with unrealistic timeframes.”

Researchers questioned 47 senior payments experts from major banks, commercial/interbank processors and local industry in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, United Kingdom, Latvia and Ireland. The survey sample represents a significant portion of the European payments market, including 12 of the 26 interbank processors, 26 of the largest 100 banks and five of the largest commercial processors. The study was conducted between April and June.

Forty percent of bank respondents said they expect to invest between €11 million and €50 million for ACH-type capabilities over the next five years, and 34 percent said they expect to spend in the same range for card-processing systems.

Extrapolating these results indicates a total spend on payments capabilities over the next five years by Europe’s 90 largest banks of more than €3 billion, according to Noel Gordon, managing director of Accenture’s Banking practice in Europe, Africa and Latin America – making it possible that the previous highest estimate (from TowerGroup1) of €8 billion ($10 billion) across all of Europe will be exceeded.

“The European Payments market is in revolution,” said Gordon. “After years with little change and relatively low regulatory mandated investments, initiatives designed to clear the way for seamless cross-border payments in Europe are heavy and expensive lifting for everyone in the industry.”

More than a third of respondents (39 percent) said they intend to replace legacy payments processing platforms as a result of SEPA, while more than half (55 percent) said they plan to update their existing platforms. Only 6 percent said they are undecided or planning other future steps.

Even with all this investment, only 37 percent of respondents said they intend to be fully SEPA compliant by the 2008 interim deadline. Between 2008 and 2010, countries’ existing national payment systems will co-exist with SEPA payments, before full migration to SEPA payments in 2010. Banks which have not upgraded their systems by 2008 will need interim solutions to convert SEPA payments for processing by existing systems until 2010. A quarter (27 percent) of respondents said they intend handle their interim solutions internally and 19 percent said they intend to use third parties. Another 16 percent said they will consider developing stand-alone SEPA-compliant products.

“I foresee a lot of premature grey hair among IT executives before this is over,” Gordon said. “While banks are not required to be fully SEPA compliant by 2008, the fact that nearly two-thirds of respondents say they will seek temporary interim solutions is worrying. They’re incurring extra expense, buying themselves just two years to get to their final SEPA solution. For those using this approach, the ideal answer is to select an interim solution that can be expanded upon to support full compliance later on.”

One of the reasons that two-thirds of respondents will not be SEPA compliant by 2008 is that the initiative is stretching many banks’ business and technology resources to the limit. When asked to choose among organizational capabilities that would be strained by SEPA compliance, 74 percent of respondents selected “technical project management” capabilities, 71 percent selected “business project management,” 69 percent selected “strategy development and planning,” 67 percent selected “systems delivery” and 62 percent selected “change management across the organization.”

“This data indicates that regulatory compliance threatens to overload the industry by soaking up so many resources,” Gordon said. “Several executives indicated in interviews that they were worried that SEPA might actually stifle product innovation – just the opposite of what’s intended.”

Other highlights of the survey include:

Survey respondents also projected that consolidation of payment processing is an inevitable consequence of SEPA as national payments infrastructures give way to European ones. Respondents predicted:

“Many of the executives we surveyed saw Visa and MasterCard as big winners, particularly their debit card schemes,” Gordon said. “Their card processing operations were seen as likely to grow across Europe. But they’d need to expand their offerings – from their present limited roles of authorization, clearing and settlement -- to compete with existing U.S. and European card-processing companies.”

1 TowerGroup Press Release 23 May 2005

Survey Methodology
The research was conducted for Accenture by PSE Consulting between April and June 2006. Researchers interviewed 47 senior executives of major banks, processors, interbank organisations and payments industry specialists from 13 European countries. Interviews were based on a structured questionnaire seeking both quantitative and qualitative responses. The aggregate European spend estimate combines data from this survey with that published by PSE in 2006 from other surveys, representing an additional 20 banks in Europe.

About Accenture
Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Committed to delivering innovation, Accenture collaborates with its clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments. With deep industry and business process expertise, broad global resources and a proven track record, Accenture can mobilize the right people, skills and technologies to help clients improve their performance. With more than 133,000 people in 48 countries, the company generated net revenues of US$15.55 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2005. Its home page is


Joe Krakoviak

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