Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA)

SEPA enables customers to make cashless euro payments easy, efficient and safe from just one account by using harmonized payment instruments.

To this end, the European Parliament and the Council passed a regulation (Regulation (EU) No 260/2012, SEPA Regulation) that sets a single migration deadline for euro area countries, namely August 2014, to replace the existing national credit transfer and direct debit schemes with the new SEPA schemes.

In line with the SEPA Regulation, the following bank account and bank identification data are required for payment transactions:

  • IBAN (International Bank Account Number) and
  • BIC (Business Identifier Code)

Since February 1, 2016, cross-border payment transactions will no longer require statement of the BIC (in addition to the IBAN).

Apart from the EU, SEPA also covers the EFTA countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland as well as Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City.

Advantages of SEPA

  • Given the harmonized SEPA standards, consumers and businesses are able to process all their payments from one single account held at any bank in SEPA. This one-stop solution allows businesses to centralize their payables and receivables across Europe while reducing the number of bank connections and streamlining liquidity management.
  • Moreover, the processing time for credit transfers has been reduced. As a consequence, as of 2012, euro amounts that are transferred electronically across the EU are at the receiver’s disposal after a maximum processing time of one bank business day. For transfers made by using conventional paper credit transfer forms, the maximum processing time is two bank business days. SEPA Instant Payments will reduce the processing time for credit transfers ot a few seconds.
  • SEPA direct debit schemes for euro payments were launched in November 2009. They facilitate payment of, for example, invoices from foreign mail order businesses or subscriptions to foreign newspapers.
  • As the exact due date is stated in the SEPA direct debit, customers will know exactly when their account is debited, which allows for more efficient cash and liquidity management.
  • SEPA grants additional rights to account holders (i.e. payers) to protect their accounts against direct debit fraud. Payers may e.g. limit direct debit collection to a certain amount or block their accounts for any direct debits to a specific list of payees.
  • Independent of the transaction amount, the charges levied on cross-border credit transfers and direct debits within the EU must be equal to those levied on comparable domestic transactions. Statement of the IBAN are mandatory, and the respective amount must be stated in euro. Moreover, bank fees are to be shared by payer and payee. Important: This does not apply to payments to accounts in Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Switzerland or Vatican City.
  • Debit cards can be used across Europe for cash withdrawals at cash machines and for payments in shops and Restaurants.

Milestones since 2002

2002    Establishment of the European Payments Council (EPC); the European banking sector announces its intention to create the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA)

2007    Adoption of the Payment Services Directive (Directive 2007/64/EC on payment services in the internal market) to provide the legal basis for creating an EU-wide single market for payment services

2008    Introduction of SEPA credit transfers (SCT)

2009    Introduction of SEPA direct debits (SDD); adoption of the Federal Act on the Provision of Payment Services (Zahlungsdienstegesetz – ZaDiG) to implement the Payments Services Directive in Austria

2012    Adoption of Regulation (EU) No 260/2012 establishing technical and business requirements for credit transfers and direct debits in euro

2014    Adoption of Regulation (EU) No 248/2014 on the SEPA migration grace period until August 1, 2014

2016    Start of IBAN-only for cross-border SEPA payments and end of grace period for SEPA niche products.

2017    Introduction of SEPA Instant Credit Transfer

2018    Go-live of Eurosystem-Service TARGET Instant Payments Settlement (TIPS) in November