EC to quiz banks on Sepa progress

Banks are set to be questioned by the European Union executive on their attempts to reduce the charges associated with cross-boarder transactions.

European banks have committed themselves to the European Commission's Single Euro Payments Area (Sepa) and plan to start introducing pan-European payments schemes by 2008, with roll out completed by 2010.

Sepa developed from a meeting of European ministers in 2000 and a number of companies, including UK-based Voca, are already switching their systems over, bringing them in line with EU policy.

The Sepa payments schemes will cover electronic credit transfers, direct debits and debit cards and will ensure that cross-border transactions are cheaper and smoother for consumers.

The commission criticised banks in a recent report into Sepa products and suggested that schemes might cover cross-border payments only, making them less robust than existing systems.

An EC spokesman told "The fact we're trying to ask the right questions does not mean that some of the participants are not going to be ready. We want to have [this in place] by 2010 so we'd better do something about it instead of sitting on our asses. But maybe we have to adapt our legislative proposals."

The changeover to Sepa will involve high costs for banks in adapting IT systems and technology, but will result in lower charges for transactions. Bank charges currently vary widely across the EU, with the cost of transactions in Italy far higher than those in cheaper countries like the Netherlands.

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