Efforts to unify Europe’s mobile payments schemes meet head on
Collaboration between national banks has seen widespread adoption of mobile payments schemes. The French and German-led approach of focusing on a single European scheme could therefore be seen as a distraction. But is it the only real way of keeping US payment companies at bay?
Four years ago, large banks from across Europe joined together to build a new pan-European payments company capable of fighting back against US players such as Visa and Apple Pay.
The project, called the European Payments Initiative (EPI), was designed to bolster European financial sovereignty in the face of increasing dominance in the region by these US firms. Large European financial institutions, as EPI’s shareholders, would have ultimate control over the new company, potentially helping to safeguard the incumbents’ businesses in years to come.
After some changes – notably a decision last year not to develop a rival to Visa in credit and debit cards – EPI is staging its commercial launch for account-to-account payments this year, under the brand name wero. But, as so often in European finance, differing domestic interests have ended up limiting its continental reach.
EPI is backed by French, German and Dutch banks, with BNP Paribas an early and particularly visible participant. On the other hand, a rival vision for how to develop an indigenous and ultimately unified European instant payments architecture, based on joining together existing national mobile payment schemes – and backed notably by Spain’s CaixaBank and Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo – is also moving forward.