Last month I watched the 20th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall with great interest. It certainly was a monumental step in the amalgamation of Europe on an economic and political scale, but it did make me wonder how close we are to a consolidated Europe when it comes to payments.
For any non-European payment provider who has looked to enter the European market, the idea of SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) is a gift from the gods. The ability to roll out one solution across multiple markets would reduce costs for everyone in the payments industry, allowing true competition and innovation to flourish. New hardware manufacturers wouldn't have to work their way through the minefield of local certifications which currently make products commercially unfeasible in some markets.
But with less than 12 months until "SEPA for cards" starts rolling out, I do wonder if we are seeing elements of SEPA taking hold through mergers and acquisitions. Just this week I see Nordic payments supplier, Point International, has bought UK's tier 2 and 3 payments provider, Commidea. This is just the latest of a multitude of mergers that have taken place in the past few years. Others include: Ingenico with Sagem Monetel, Moneyline and now easycash; Hypercom with Thales e-Transactions; Verifone with Lipman and Dione; PBS with BBS; and Card Solutions, formerly Telekurs, with an array of pan-European businesses including 3C and Carus.
It seems to me that SEPA, be it through government intervention or acquisition, is happening in front of our eyes. It will take time but it does provide an exciting era for European payments: reduced certifications, common standards, lower costs - how can anyone complain?
The real excitement, and maybe the reason why this flurry of acquisitions and mergers is upon us, is the constant rise of innovative products from the Asian markets pointing the way to the future of payments. Showing inexpensive and market-leading technology, anyone who attended Cartes in Paris this year would have been intrigued as where the future lies.
I can confidently predict that the consolidation of European payments will continue, as will the rise of innovation from the Asian markets. This will ultimately mean that retailers and consumers alike will benefit by gaining access to cost-effective, leading-edge technology, offering a better experience for all. I wonder what European payments will all look like 20 years from now!