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Europe eyes communal rival to US payment giants

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-05-04 16:52

Several of Europe's most successful credit card processors and biggest banks are considering pooling resources to create a system capable of challenging the United States-based brands that dominate the world payment market.

The proposal has the backing of the European Commission, and companies, including Santander, BNP Paris, and Deutsche Bank, are already involved.

Joachim Schmalzl, chair of the European Payment Initiative, or EPI, told the Financial Times "the idea is to build a European payment champion that can take on PayPal, Mastercard, Visa, Google and Apple".

The group has until September to come up with a blueprint for its vision of a system that would allow customers to settle personal financial transactions, withdraw money from machines, and pay online and in shops.

Currently, US payment giants Visa and Mastercard dominate Europe's card payment scene, with European retail group EuroCommerce estimating that they are responsible for four in every five transactions carried out across the continent.

"We want to offer an alternative to this oligopoly and give merchants and consumers in Europe a real choice," Schmalzl added.

Schmalzl is on the board of the German Savings Bank Association, the country's largest retail banking group, which has given the project, which does not yet have a brand name, its full support.

A previous attempt at a European rival to the US payment giants in 2011, known as the Monnet Project, failed because it struggled to come up with a strong business model or secure sufficient political backing, but the latest initiative has already gathered more support.

Schmalzl's comments come a week after France's independent competition agency, the Autorite de la Concurrence, issued its findings after an investigation lasting more than a year, into the increasing importance of financial technology in the traditional banking sector.

It warned that vigilance was required because of "significant changes in the payments sector, characterized in particular by the arrival of major digital platforms.

"Technological innovation and regulatory changes have allowed the arrival … of new players, fintechs and big techs, who have developed, alongside traditional banking players, innovative payment methods for consumers, and new diversified services," it continued.

The likes of Apple, Google and Amazon Pay, it continued, were not subject to the usual banking rules, and the EPI "should finally make it possible to create a pan-European payment system that could connect banks to each other without using current networks, such as Visa and Mastercard".

Several individual European countries have successful payment solutions that could contribute toward a continent-wide communal effort.

"The national solutions cannot be scaled across European borders," added Schmalzl. "Nobody (in Europe) on its own can compete with the US credit card giants. That will be possible if we team up."

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