HVB: Tailor SEPA to Your Needs - Markus Straußfeld

The Single Euro Payments Area goes some way to simplifying matters for companies looking to centralise payments processing capabilities, but there are still many issues to resolve. Some banks, including HVB, have seized upon the opportunity to fill the gaps, particularly for global clients.

The market has moved a few steps closer to the Single Euro Payments Area’s (SEPA) goal of harmonising Europe’s payments infrastructure, but corporates centralising payments processing to cut costs still face challenges. They increasingly look to banking partners to provide connectivity, and some banks have answered that call.

SEPA outgoing credit transfers still encounter local subsets and require some customisation of ERP systems; meaning there is no single SEPA standard in the market, but formats are less problematic than reporting.

‘It is still unclear how central bank reporting will develop. There is differentiation between countries over the duties of corporates and banks. Corporates don’t know what to do. In-house bank reporting is one thing, but how do they do central bank reporting?’ asks Markus Straußfeld, director of cash management sales at HypoVereinsbank (HVB), a member of the UniCredit Group.

Discussions over SEPA Direct Debit (DD), he believes, make matters worse. Corporate customers handling large daily transaction volumes have great expectations of SEPA DD, but the detail is vague and they are unsure of how to proceed.

‘Before we started using SEPA DD we had been talking to a number of multinational corporate customers in order to decide on the details of SEPA DD programming. We expect a legal framework that will harmonise Western Europe, but the Payment Services Directive is transitioned into local law in different ways, so there will still be some different local legal requirements.’

On a positive note, he sees reliable solutions emerging for International Bank Account Numbers (IBAN). Austria and Germany have global solutions for the conversion of existing local account numbers to IBAN.

‘This is the first and most important step in preparing accounting systems and feeding in the right data to constitute straight-through processing.’ Straußfeld feels that in recent months SEPA has not delivered the benefits it promised, and that as long as local restrictions exist – especially in fragmented Central and Eastern European markets – banks must shoulder the complexity for their customers.

Bridging the gap

UniCredit sees SEPA as an opportunity to develop enhanced payment services, supporting global clients looking to switch to a single format – xml, MT101 or a proprietary solution – by offering local format conversion.

‘We try to substitute the open issues with a conversion programme, which accepts global formats and translates them into local formats. This is not what the people behind SEPA envisioned, but it is the only way for large corporates to get the centralisation and harmonisation they want,’ says Straußfeld. ‘We have to fulfil that role. SEPA is just the icing on the cake.’ UniCredit’s global application European Gate allows clients to use local formats or a single global format. Clients benefit from local pricing for mass payments in a single global format, full transparency on liquidity, and full STP across the SEPA region, CEE countries and many other jurisdictions. For countries that are outside UniCredit’s reach, the bank is supporting the trend towards SwiftNet for corporate access.

‘SwiftNet connectivity is helping many corporates to set up centralised payment services. It can be used in all countries, so it enables more corporates to use a global set up, which helps them to cut costs,’ notes Straußfeld.

‘And it is not just big corporations but also mid-tier companies that will increasingly use SwiftNet.’

UniCredit has combined its European Gate single access point with SwiftNet corporate access, and will soon unveil new, simple Swift adaptor software to support mid-tier companies. Thanks to banks like UniCredit, clients can realise the kind of payments efficiency that SEPA’s backers intended.

Markus Straußfeld, director of cash management sales at HypoVereinsbank (HVB), a member of the UniCredit Group.