European banks team up to offer alternative to Visa, Mastercard

Paris - Sixteen European banks have teamed up to deliver by 2022 a new unified payment system that will offer consumers on the continent both cards and digital wallets that could offer a serious alternative to giants in the sector such as Visa and Mastercard.

Dubbed the European Payments Initiative (EPI), the "solution aims to become a new standard means of payment for European consumers and merchants in all types of transactions including in-store, online, cash withdrawal and 'peer-to-peer' in addition to existing international payment scheme solutions," the  consortium said in a statement on July 3.

The proposal would offer consumers the possibility to make instant transactions, a service start-ups have pioneered and which some European banks have begun to integrate into their offers.

"The big innovation will be to allow making a payment to someone throughout Europe, seven days out of seven, instantaneously and, for example, with the telephone number of the beneficiary," said Thierry Laborde, a senior executive at French bank BNP Paribas, one of the members of the consortium.

How a bank card pament system works

With payment systems in Europe still fractured and digital services still not available everywhere, the banks behind the initiative believe that European and national authorities will find it useful.

"The COVID-19 crisis has underlined the need for a unified European digital payment solution," the EPI consortium said.

"In this sense, EPI also aims to align the European payments ecosystem of banks, merchants and acquirers/payment services providers, thereby contributing to strengthening of the Single Market and the European digital agenda."

The European Central Bank welcomed the initiative, noting that 10 European countries still have national card schemes that do not welcome cards from other EU member states.

It said it supports private initiatives that are pan-European in reach, are cost efficient, secure and customer friendly.

The history, role and functions of the European Central Bank

The consortium is still open and members urged others involved in the payments sector to join.

The project, which is expected to cost several billion euros, aims to eventually capture at least 60 percent of electronic payments in Europe.