SEPA Vision for Cards

EPC's Contribution to a SEPA for Cards


The Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) for cards sets the conditions to offer European cardholders general purpose cards to make euro payments and withdraw euro cash throughout SEPA, with the same ease and convenience as in their home country. It also enables European merchants to choose which SEPA compliant card acceptance brand and product they wish to accept and with which acquirer(s) (i.e. a payment service provider that services card-accepting merchants) they wish to contract, without this choice being artificially constrained by legal, technical, or procedural issues. European consumers benefit from wider acceptance of their cards within SEPA and more choice of card products than before. European merchants benefit from a more competitive acquiring market, and are able to choose which card schemes to accept and from which acquirer.

SEPA cards standardisation programme

The objectives of a SEPA for cards will be achieved through the use of harmonised, interoperable and free standards, which are openly available to all parties within the card payment value chain. The work of the EPC and the European Cards Stakeholders Group (ECSG) supports this vision. Created in 2016 and building on the foundations set by the CSG (created in 2009), the ECSG is a multi-stakeholder body representing retailers, vendors, processors, card schemes and the Payment Service Providers, represented by the EPC. The dialogue taking place in the ECSG therefore, ensures the open and constructive co-management of the processes related to the identification of common standards requirements and implementation of best practices compliant with such requirements, which will promote interoperability and foster competition in the SEPA for cards. The ECSG focuses on a cards standardisation programme that will create a better, safer, more cost efficient and functionally richer card services environment, whatever the card product or scheme may be. Specifically, the initiative aims at removing technical obstacles which prevent a consistent customer payment card experience across SEPA. The ECSG encourages process efficiency throughout the card supply chain and, last but not least, adherence to the highest level of card payment security. The ECSG develops and maintains the SEPA Cards Standardisation Volume (the SCS Volume). This document defines a standard set of requirements to enable an interoperable and scalable card and terminal infrastructure across SEPA, based on open and free standards. To find out more about the role of the Volume, check out our infographic.

If you are a card stakeholder wishing to implement the requirements of the SCS Volume, at current the latest release of the Volume is version 8.0. For more information, please consult the ECSG website.

Supporting the development of contactless payments

Eager to develop innovative methods of card payments, the EPC contributed to the Euro Retail Payments Board’s (ERPB) report on mobile and card-based proximity payments, published at the end of 2015. It carefully studied the European landscape of contactless payments, and concluded that the market is fragmented in terms of maturity in the adoption of contactless payment solutions, and the implementation of the technical standards. In order to reach harmonised contactless proximity payments and a more uniform customer experience in Europe, whilst keeping security front of mind, the ERPB produced ten recommendations. One of them is to “enhance society awareness on contactless payments”. For this purpose, a consumer leaflet was developed in 2016, with the support of the European Central Bank, the EPC, the consumer organisation, BEUC (liaising with AGE Platform Europe) and the retailers association, EuroCommerce. It explores the benefits of contactless payments, explains how they work, and addresses some concerns that the general public might have about their security. 

The implementation of the ERPB recommendations should enable a broader take-up of contactless payments in Europe, which in turn will reduce the use of less cost-effective payment instruments, such as cash and cheques.

Card fraud prevention

Card fraud prevention is a top priority of the EPC. The EPC committed to migrate all SEPA cards and terminals to chip and personal identification number (PIN), based on the global EMV standards, by the end of 2010. With migration nearly complete, the focus now is on identifying and promoting measures to fight card fraud in a mature chip and PIN environment. In December 2010, the EPC approved the resolution 'Preventing Card Fraud in a Mature EMV Environment' (see below). This resolution sets the conditions for further increased security of card payments, based on the EMV chip only option and in the area of online payments with cards.

The SEPA Cards Framework is now retired

The SEPA Cards Framework (SCF), first created in 2005, has been one of the founding industry initiatives that helped to expand the acceptance and coverage of cards in SEPA. Owned by the EPC, this document has significantly contributed to the removal of many of the barriers to the development of the harmonised acceptance of all cards by merchants in the region. The SCF outlined high level principles and rules that when implemented by the card industry, contributed to deliver a consistent user experience to both cardholders and merchants when making or accepting euro payments or cash withdrawals (more info can be found on this page).

Whilst it has been much helpful to develop a ‘SEPA for cards’, it has reached the end of its active life in late 2015. To find out more about the reasons why it has been removed, read this EPC Blog

The SCF remains available on the EPC website as a historical reference, but will not be active any longer. 

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