12 October 2012
Best practice: Migration to SEPA already completed in Finland
In July, clients of Equens received the annual EQ Magazine, a publication in which banks and other insiders share their views on the European financial industry. It is therefore no surprise that the latest issue also covered the migration to SEPA. When I was reading the magazine, one article in particular stood out. In the article ‘The Blessing of a Collective Decision’, the reader is informed that Finland has completed the transition to SEPA. Since the end of 2011, all payments in Finland have been SEPA-proof – an achievement other countries can only dream of! Reason enough to highlight the content of the article once again.
Unlike many other countries, the decision to switch to SEPA in Finland was taken as early as 2008. As a result, the country was fully SEPA-ready in 2011. Software vendors played an important role in the standardisation process, which has contributed to an understanding of SEPA among parties involved. Similar to the Netherlands, the parties set up a national Finnish forum to act as a basis for SEPA migration.
Because of the traditionally active role of software vendors in the payments industry and due to clear national standards, Finland was in a strong position. Currently, all transfers are one hundred per cent SEPA-ready. The SEPA Credit Transfer Rulebook has been implemented by banks and businesses, and provides a basis for the SEPA payments market for the development and implementation of products and services. These products and services enable handling of payments via SEPA. Finland also meets all the requirements on the debit side of SEPA Direct Debit.
The migration has been almost effortless for consumers. The vast majority of the Finnish population already use online banking, therefore the only thing consumers had to get used to was IBAN. IBAN had been used for some time alongside the familiar national BBAN number. Finnish bank account numbers already consisted of fourteen characters, so the switch to eighteen-character IBAN numbers was not a major change. Finnish banks make things as easy as possible for citizens by pre-entering the IBAN number for them so they do not have to enter it themselves.
For the corporate customers, the changes were more pronounced, especially in relation to card payments. Merchants had to upgrade their terminals and were confronted with a different fee structure. Nevertheless, migration was completed without any major problems. In order to address questions from various commercial and other parties, a help desk was set up and a variety of test functions were made available. Prior to the migration, organisations were asked to scrutinise their processing and software systems. This facilitated streamlined processes.
Finland enjoyed a successful migration process. The following are aspects, which have fostered successful migration:
- Timely preparations
- Clear schedule
- Strong commitment of software companies
- Continuous collaboration with involved parties in the SEPA Forum Core Group
- The public sector is a good example of early migration.
Naturally, the situation in every country is unique. As a result, each SEPA migration will be different. Nevertheless, other countries could benefit from following the example of Finland.