In the first session of the day, Gerard Hartsink, provided a clear overview on the progress of SEPA, the SEPA Cards Framework and the SEPA Instruments, and looking around the room I could see a lot of people writing notes and nodding in agreement and understanding. I said yesterday I wasn’t our resident SEPA expert, but now I feel I can see the wood not just the trees.
However, the highlight of the day for me was the interchange rate debate between MasterCard, Monet, EAPS and PayFair that followed. There was a feeling that we were about to witness more controversy and heated discussions, but the reality couldn’t have been further from the truth. Everyone agreed! They all agreed that more than one card scheme is good for competition, and that with nearly 20 card schemes in Europe already, there is definitely room for more. Everyone also agreed that there is no single ideal interchange rate and that interchange shouldn’t be defined by the regulators. Instead, the card schemes should set interchange rates in response to market forces, to find the ‘sweet spot’ to paraphrase one of the panellists.
It was also encouraging to see the phenomenal progress of PayFair in just four years. While the network is built on the standardisation and open markets that SEPA provides, making it happen is a real challenge – this is definitely one to watch as they make their mark on the European card market.
Following my blog yesterday which highlighted the need for banks to reduce complexity, this was reiterated in the next session, only from the merchants’ perspective. International merchants want a simple ‘any time, any place, anywhere’ offering from their acquiring banks – they don’t want to have to deal with different banks in different countries with different fees and different services levels – they are demanding efficiency and consistency. Acquirers will have to deliver.
As I left the conference on Friday afternoon and I walked out into warm, sunny weather that shows Paris off at its best, I couldn’t help but reflect on how different it was from the damp start on Wednesday morning. However this had been an excellent conference, the attendees had been enthusiastic and the talk was of opportunities, and moving the industry forward. So I left feeling positive and up-beat – the weather was a bonus.