European payment area

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European payment area

Logo of the European Payments Area

Map of Europe with the current members of the European Payments Area
  • Eurozone
  • Other member states of the European Union
  • Other member states of the European Economic Area and Switzerland
  • European mini-states participating in the SEPA
  • United Kingdom (in SEPA during Brexit transition)
  • English name Single Euro Payments Area
    Member States 36 :

    European UnionEuropean Union European Union EFTA Andorra Monaco San Marino Vatican City United Kingdom
    European Free Trade AssociationEFTA 
    San MarinoSan Marino 
    Vatican cityVatican 
    United KingdomUnited Kingdom 

    Official and working languages

    Bulgarian , Danish , German , English , Estonian , Finnish , French , Greek , Irish , Italian , Croatian , Latvian , Lithuanian , Maltese , Dutch , Norwegian , Polish , Portuguese , Romanian , Swedish , Slovak , Slovenian , Spanish , Czech , Hungarian

    surface 4,854,382 km²
    population 516.881.997
    Population density 106 inhabitants per km²


    Time zone UTC to UTC +2

    European payments area , or Single Euro Payments Area (abbreviated SEPA for English Single Euro Payments Area ) is the name for the common payment area of 36 European countries, including all 27 countries of the European Union . The associated project to standardize cashless payments is also called this. The aim of the project is a Europe-wide uniform payment area for cashless payments in euros , whereby the participating areas go well beyond the euro countries. In this supranational payment area, customers should no longer be able to recognize differences between national and cross-border payments.

    The prerequisite is a supranational area with a banking system that allows payments according to a fast, very effective, standardized and transnational procedure. The SEPA procedure defines such a standard.

    The procedure has been used in business transactions since August 2014 instead of the old transfer procedure. These were still available to private users until February 2016, but were no longer officially mentioned in February 2014.

    Problem and goal

    Traditionally, each country has a national solution for processing payment transactions. This includes

    In parallel, there are internationally widespread solutions (e.g. the SWIFT payment transaction format ).

    Due to the coexistence of national and international solutions, for example, foreign payments can be many times more expensive than domestic payments. In addition, the differences in payment systems can increase the error rate. As part of the creation of a European internal market , the EU Commission has been complaining for many years that this represents a significant obstacle to cross-border trade.

    The aim of the European Payments Area is to standardize cashless payments within the participating countries in such a way that there are no longer any differences between national and cross-border payments for bank customers.

    This has the following advantages:

    • payment transactions between the participating countries will be made easier
    • There are no longer any delays ( float ) for direct debits
    • For transfers, the float is limited to one day (since 2012, legal regulation: see below)
    • Existing special solutions - for example for cross-border direct debits - will be replaced by standards
    • a uniform file format ( XML ) is mandatory - this reduces the required interfaces between the payment transaction systems
    • Specifying the XML file format reduces the data loss that can occur during conversions
    • there is a common legal framework for all cashless payments in Europe
    • the development of common standards, processes, data formats and software solutions is promoted
    • national payment systems will be replaced in the medium term

    The last point in particular is essential, as the parallel existence of national and EU-wide payment systems leads to higher costs and would slow down or prevent the enforcement of EU standards.

    The following is viewed critically:

    The international bank account number (IBAN) is sometimes considered cumbersome due to its length, as typing errors are possible when entering longer numbers . In some cases, this is responded to with ready-made transfer forms, and some computer programs for payment transactions offer the possibility of calculating the IBAN from the bank code (BLZ) and account number. In fact, there is little risk of triggering a wrong transfer through incorrect numbers or typing errors, since the third and fourth characters of the IBAN, i.e. the first two digits after the country code, represent a two-digit checksum . It is therefore unlikely that an incorrect entry will result in a valid IBAN. In online banking, errors can be ruled out while entering data; with traditional paper transfer forms, an invalid IBAN can lead to delays in payment transactions. Compared to bank code and account number, which do not contain any check digits, the IBAN system prevents incorrect transfers.

    The previously common direct debit authorization has been converted into the SEPA mandate; A transition period ran in Germany from February 1, 2014 to February 1, 2016.

    Legal basis

    The legal basis is Regulation (EU) No. 260/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of March 14, 2012, laying down the technical regulations and business requirements for credit transfers and direct debits in euros and amending Regulation (EC) No. 924/2009 .

    Legal framework

    The framework conditions are defined by the EU regulation. This includes the definition of the data elements to be used, the use of the international bank account number (IBAN) to address accounts and the use of various direct debit types ( First, Recurrent, One-Off, Final ) .

    This results in essential requirements of the regulations of the European Payments Council (EPC) and the German banking industry , such as B .:

    • Lead times when submitting the direct debit to the payer's bank
    • Duty to inform the account holder in advance (pre-notification)
    • Rules for displaying mandate changes (changes to the payment authorizations issued)
    • Definition of the character set (for example, the existing umlaut problem will be somewhat mitigated by the new rules for XML files that will apply from November 4, 2013, since then banks have had to accept umlauts from end customers, but can convert them immediately, depending on the taste "ö" into "oe "Or" o ")
    • Detailed rules for the structure of individual data fields

    Date February 1, 2014 / transition period until August 1, 2014

    The common end date for the national transfer and direct debit procedures for all euro countries is formally February 1, 2014. As an exception, credit institutions were allowed to accept transfers in the old format until August 1, 2014.

    • After that, transfers and direct debits may only be made in the standardized " pain formats " (Payments Initiation, English for " payment instructions "). The pain format ( ISO 20022 standard) replaces the DTA format ("data carrier exchange format").
    • Instead of the so-called DTI files (“DTI” stands for “data carrier exchange information”) with electronic account statement information, the banks must deliver the standardized camt formats (Cash Management, English for “money management”) in XML according to the ISO 20022 standard . However, the SWIFT messages (e.g. MT940 ) for electronic account statements also remain valid.
    • Since February 1, 2014, only the international bank account number (IBAN) has to be specified for payments within Germany ; the specification of the BIC (Bank Identifier Code) can be omitted, as this can be derived from the bank code contained in the IBAN . In the case of a payment abroad, however, the BIC still had to be specified by February 1, 2016. The German legislator has not used the option of extending this date in the SEPA accompanying law.
    • Each account must be able to be blocked for direct debits in terms of amount, frequency and payee.

    Date February 1, 2016

    Private bank customers were able to use the old account numbers and bank codes for national payments until February 1, 2016. Afterwards these were replaced by the international bank account number (IBAN). Up to this date, these numbers had been converted by the banks. The basis for the conversion was the German SEPA Accompanying Act of April 3, 2013. Since February 1, 2016, only the IBAN can be used for all payments.

    A transitional regulation (German SEPA Accompanying Act § 7c; Federal Law Gazette 2013 I p. 610 ) applied until February 1, 2016 for the electronic direct debit procedure (ELV) .

    Date October 31, 2016

    The use of national transfer and direct debit procedures for countries outside the euro zone participating in the SEPA was permitted for transfers in euros until October 31, 2016. National procedures are still allowed for other currencies.

    Uniform legal framework

    A major obstacle to the introduction of the European Payments Area was the lack of uniform legal provisions in the individual member states. For example, in some countries there is still no legal basis for a direct debit procedure. In December 2005, the EU Commission therefore presented a proposal for a new uniform legal framework . This proposal led to the Directive on payment services ( Directive 2007/64 / EC ), English Payment Services Directive (PSD). The directive had to be transposed into national law by the member states of the European Union and the European Economic Area by October 31, 2009. Due to the high degree of integration of its banks in the European banking system, Switzerland also committed itself to the PSD goals.

    The PSD has a much wider scope than the regulation it replaces on cross-border payments within the EU ( Regulation (EC) No. 2560/2001 ), which formed the legal basis for EU transfers .

    Participating countries

    36 countries are currently participating in the European Payments Area. Membership has also been extended to countries that do not (yet) use the euro as their national currency.

    Participating countries are all 27 members of the European Union (including the French overseas departments of Guadeloupe , French Guiana , Martinique , Réunion , Mayotte (since March 31, 2011), Saint-Pierre and Miquelon , the Canary Islands belonging to Spain , the exclaves Ceuta and Melilla and the Portuguese islands of Azores and Madeira ). The SEPA also includes the United Kingdom , Switzerland , Monaco and San Marino , the British crown possessions Jersey , Guernsey and Isle of Man , the British overseas territory Gibraltar , and the three other countries of the European Economic Area , Iceland , Liechtenstein and Norway . For the non-EEA members Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, however, the special situation applies that they are bound to the SEPA regulations, but not to the EU regulations and EU directives. Since July 1, 2013, Croatia has also been a new member of the European Union . On March 1, 2019, the State of Vatican City or the Holy See and Andorra became part of the SEPA area.

    The Danish Faroe Islands and Greenland do not belong to the European Payments Area . Furthermore, although they use the euro as their national currency, participating countries are not Kosovo and Montenegro .

    Considerations are underway to adopt the SEPA principles for the Arab and Asian regions in a separate system.

    Payment options

    Since the beginning of November 2009, the following SEPA payment options have been available to bank customers:

    • SEPA credit transfers ( SEPA Credit Transfer ) - since January 28, 2008. The declaration of the SEPA intended use (SVWZ) 140 characters are available for transfers that are on the electronic account statement preceded by the symbol "SVWZ +".
    • SEPA core direct debits ( SEPA Direct Debit CORE / COR 1 )
    • SEPA B2B direct debit ( SEPA Direct Debit B2B ) has shorter deadlines and no right of objection. It is only used between companies, hence "B2B" ( Business-to-Business )
    • SEPA card payments ( SEPA Cards Framework )

    It is essential that these options are fully automated ( straight through processing ) , i. H. can be processed without manual intervention. Since February 1, 2014, the following applies: If the sender and recipient have accounts with German banks, the BIC and bank name are not required. Pursuant to Article 9 of the SEPA Regulation, the payee and the payer may no longer require the other to hold an account in a specific EU member state; all accounts that can be reached via SEPA are equivalent.

    SEPA mandates

    A mandate (from the Latin mandare , 'to give out', 'to commission') is understood in finance to mean the granting of a payment authorization. A mandate is given by the debtor to the payee . With the help of the mandate, the payee ( creditor ) withdraws money from the account of the debtor ( debtor ).

    The set of rules of the European Payments Committee (EPC) - i.e. the institution that is involved in the implementation of the European Payments Area - provides three types of mandate for SEPA:

    1. the paper-based mandate with the handwritten signature.
    2. the EPC's e-mandate. This form of mandate is a voluntary service provided by the banks and is not offered by the Deutsche Kreditwirtschaft .
    3. the electronic mandate with a secure signature. The German banking industry is obliged by the EPC rules to support this type of mandate. At the meeting of the German SEPA Council on August 21, 2013, it was confirmed that the previous business practice for the redemption of direct debits based on direct debit mandates issued on the Internet will not change.

    The SEPA mandate contains a clear reference to the direct debit: the creditor identification number and the mandate reference (both are individual identifiers consisting of up to 35 characters). This reference is account independent.

    The SEPA mandate has certain characteristics:

    • The SEPA mandate explicitly instructs the payer's bank to redeem the direct debit (has also been applicable to national direct debits since July 9, 2012 due to changes in the general terms and conditions of all banks). Due to the SEPA mandate, the collection of the SEPA direct debit is always considered an authorized payment, whereas a direct debit is fundamentally unauthorized (since July 9, 2012, due to changes in the general terms and conditions of all banks, this also applies to national direct debits).
    • The SEPA mandate clearly indicates the return option within eight weeks for a SEPA core direct debit (since July 9, 2012, due to changes in the general terms and conditions of all banks, this also applies to national direct debits).
    • If the payer contests the mandate, the creditor must deliver the SEPA mandate to the payer via the bank.
    • The SEPA mandate expires after 36 months of non-use (or 36 months after the last use). In general, the reference for the SEPA mandate (e.g. the signature of the debtor) must be saved by the payee.
    • SEPA mandates can be changed (so-called "mandate versions"). The administration of these mandate versions can take place over several versions (current and future) - this is u. a. realized with the help of the reference.

    SEPA direct debit

    The SEPA direct debit procedure has been in place since November 2009 . The rules were set out in the SEPA Core Direct Debit Scheme Rulebook of the European Payments Council (EPC). The SEPA direct debit procedure places greater demands on processing than the old German direct debit procedure.

    For example, the SEPA direct debit ( SEPA Direct Debit ) not view direct debit . Sight debits are a national payment method in Germany and generate a credit at the payee's, although the date of the value date may be in the future (is used by organizations that rely on donations, among others). In contrast, the SEPA direct debit contains a due date and other conditions, including:

    • Direct debits may only be combined if they refer to the same mandate.
    • All information on the mandate that is valid on the due date must be provided by the obligee.
    • From November 2012, a lead time of one day is possible for both the first and the subsequent direct debit. This option is called COR1. The German banking industry has been supporting COR1 since November 4, 2013, the Austrian since April 2013.
    • Each account must be able to be blocked for direct debits in terms of amount, frequency and payee.

    SEPA instant payment


    The necessary standards are defined at the level of the European banking associations. The new instruments will be introduced gradually from January 2008. The SEPA transfer started on January 28th. The direct debit procedure was introduced in November 2009.

    The dates for the termination of the national payment systems result from the EU regulation No. 260/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of March 14, 2012. Following this, the national transfer was switched off together with the national direct debits on February 1, 2014. All paperless payment transactions must have been converted to SEPA by this date. Only paper transfers and national niche products submitted by consumers are excluded.

    Standard transfer form

    A standard transfer form used by the banks is very helpful in practice. In Germany and Austria, the IBAN and BIC are shown on the account statements, on the back of the debit cards (Girocard) and in online banking.

    The standard form used by German banks is shown below (with explanations):

    • First line: Name of the recipient of the transfer (e.g. Moritz Mustermann2)
    • Second line: International bank account number (IBAN) of the recipient (for transfers in Germany always 22 digits)
    • The third line is followed by the eight or eleven-digit BIC of the recipient bank, a letter code that clearly identifies the receiving bank and which can be omitted for domestic transfers and for transfers within the SEPA area.
    • This is followed by the clearly deducted transfer amount in euros in the fourth line and then two lines for entries on the purpose of the transfer (e.g. invoice number and date).
    • The last two lines contain the entries for the name and IBAN of the sender of the transfer (e.g. Max Mustermann1 and his IBAN), whereupon the spaces for the date and signature remain at the bottom of the form.

    Some banks publicly offer (under the heading Customer Service or SEPA) on the Internet a nationwide conversion from the previous transfer addresses (only account number and bank code) to the new number sequences (IBAN and BIC). However, since the conversion is not unambiguous, in case of doubt it is better to rely on the details of your own bank or details of the payee.


    European level

    The European Payments Council (EPC), in which the European banks have come together, has promised the EU Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) that the European Payments Area will be implemented by 2010. Six working groups were formed for this purpose: Direct Debit, Credit Transfer, Cards, Cash, OITS (Operations, Infrastructure, Technology, Standards) and Legal .

    National level (in Germany)

    The Deutsche Kreditwirtschaft (DK), the merger of banking associations, and the Deutsche Bundesbank are working on the introduction of the European payment area in Germany. The German SEPA Committee has existed since September 13, 2006 to coordinate this work . The task of the committee is to strategically ensure the rapid implementation of the European payments area in Germany. To this end, the committee observes and evaluates the political and economic framework conditions as well as possible risks.

    The representatives in the "German SEPA Committee" are:

    National level (in Austria)

    The Austrian Payments Council (APC) is the responsible body at national level in Austria.

    National level (in Switzerland)

    The Swiss Payments Council (SPC) and the Payments Committee Switzerland (PaCoS) are the responsible bodies at the national level in Switzerland.

    Consequences of the introduction of SEPA

    Due to the costs of the introduction of the European payment area, it was possible that the costs of the payment transaction services initially rise. Conservative estimates by the ECB assumed a cost framework of around 10 billion euros for the banking industry across Europe. However, the EU Commission forecast Europe-wide cost advantages in the medium term through the standardization of payment transactions. The banking industry only partly shared this opinion. It had to be taken into account that the conventional foreign payment systems had to be retained (for payments to non-euro countries or for payments that are not denominated in euros ). Merchants assumed, however, that the bank fees for payment transaction processing would decrease due to SEPA. They saw further advantages of SEPA in the possibility of easier allocation of invoices to outstanding payments and in the lower expenditure for the payment processing.

    In general, a consolidation of the individual clearing organizations is expected. There is already a pan-European automated clearing house (PE-ACH) that covers all European countries and regions: the EBA Clearing SA. Nevertheless, the very efficient bilateral clearing that is widespread in Germany will continue to be justified.

    The SEPA mandates: new creation and conversion options for existing collection and debit agreements (case distinction)

    In view of the different legal characteristics of the previous national direct debit procedure and the SEPA direct debit, Die Deutsche Kreditwirtschaft made new direct debit conditions part of its terms and conditions on July 9, 2012. There the previous direct debit authorization is legally equated to the SEPA direct debit as far as possible. This applies in particular to the bankruptcy protection, the instruction to redeem the direct debit and the objection period of eight weeks. Since July 9, 2012, national direct debit mandates that have already been issued and will be in the future can be converted to SEPA direct debit mandates. The Deutsche Kreditwirtschaft points out, however, that a migration of existing direct debit authorizations is only legally secure upon presentation of a written agreement with the customer's signature or in text form with a digital signature. This means that creditors who want to reinterpret existing direct debit authorizations must check whether the existing agreements are in a legally secure form.

    Existing direct debit agreements between companies and consumers can also be reinterpreted as SEPA basic direct debit mandates, provided the original agreement between the debiting company and the consumer is available in the original form with a signature or in text form with a digital signature.

    All consumers for whom the existing direct debits are to be converted into a SEPA core direct debit must receive information in which they are informed about the migration that has been carried out as well as the creditor ID and the mandate reference number with which the creditor will be issued from the date of introduction of SEPA withdraws amounts from your account.

    For existing direct debit agreements with corporate customers, these must all be renewed; they cannot be reinterpreted as SEPA corporate direct debit mandates without the assistance of the corporate customer. For creditors who would like to use the SEPA corporate direct debit procedure with the introduction of SEPA, this means that all existing direct debit agreements with corporate customers must be obtained again. For this purpose, the creditor must provide the company liable to pay with a corresponding SEPA company mandate, which the debtor signs and returns to the creditor. In the mandate, the corporate customer who is obliged to pay must be informed of the non-possible revocation. Additional requirements apply to the SEPA corporate direct debit procedure, as revocation is excluded. The SEPA corporate mandate must be deposited with the payer's house bank, since the payer's bank rejects SEPA corporate direct debits if the authorization is not proven on the basis of the mandate.

    Overall, the introduction of the SEPA procedure is seen primarily from a legal point of view, especially with regard to standardization, effectiveness ( computerization ) and legal clarification with regard to the direct debit procedure, while by the many "private customers" of the banks (especially smaller ones Banks) is less talked about. In some cases, private customers grapple with the difficulty that, in practice, cross-border payments or cross-border direct debits are rejected by companies (so-called IBAN discrimination ) and they often have to keep several bank accounts in different countries, which means that the advantages of the SEPA system for them reduce significantly. However, according to the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority, this approach constitutes a violation of the SEPA regulation.

    Web links

    Wiktionary: European payment area  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

    Individual evidence

    1. The European Payments Area. In: 2016, accessed August 9, 2018 .
    2. SEPA - Single Euro Payments Area. Deutsche Bundesbank, accessed on June 3, 2019 .
    3. How is the IBAN structured? In: Retrieved August 3, 2016 .
    4. Change in 2014: SEPA direct debit instead of direct debit. In: Retrieved January 29, 2016 .
    5. a b Regulation (EU) No. 260/2012 , accessed on May 25, 2014
    6. Regulation (EC) No. 924/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of September 16, 2009 on cross-border payments in the Community and repealing Regulation (EC) No. 2560/2001 , accessed on May 25, 2014
    7. Obligation to report mandate changes as of June 20, 2013
    8. : DFÜ Agreement Annex 3 (format standards). In: January 22, 2020, accessed January 22, 2020 .
    9. SEPA regulations, English ( Memento from August 17, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) as of October 22, 2012
    10. The SEPA transfer. In: Deutsche Bundesbank, archived from the original on December 3, 2013 ; Retrieved May 25, 2014 .
    11. Explanation of the camt formats , accessed on December 6, 2015
    12. FAQ: What do I need the BIC for? In: Deutsche Bundesbank, archived from the original on July 3, 2014 ; Retrieved May 25, 2014 .
    13. You could also convert from the old to the new coding privately. This service is available as a web link above.
    14. EPC List of SEPA Countries as of July 3, 2013
    15. ^ List of SEPA scheme countries. European Payment Council, April 28, 2016, accessed on June 29, 2016 .
    16. ^ The Vatican City State / Holy See join the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA). Sala Stampa della Santa Sede, November 30, 2018, accessed December 1, 2018 .
    17. Extension of the geographical scope of SEPA schemes in March 2019. European Payments Council, November 30, 2018, accessed December 1, 2018 .
    18. Internet presence of the Deutsche Bundesbank: SEPA transfer as of November 6, 2017
    19. a b Internet presence of the Deutsche Bundesbank: SEPA direct debit as of November 6, 2017
    20. SEPA direct debit types: similarities and differences as of September 18, 2012
    21. a b SEPA for consumers. In: Deutsche Bundesbank, archived from the original on July 3, 2014 ; Retrieved May 25, 2014 .
    22. Paper-based mandate as of August 8, 2012
    23. EPC e-mandate as of August 8, 2012
    24. ^ Minutes of the 8th meeting of the German SEPA Council on August 21, 2013 ( Memento of December 3, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
    25. Description of the creditor ID for a SEPA direct debit at Dt. Bundesbank ( Memento from June 15, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
    26. Requirements for mandate management as of August 8, 2012
    27. WORLD: Bic is completely eliminated . January 20, 2016 ( [accessed April 15, 2019]).
    28. SEPA in Germany as of September 8, 2012
    29. E-Commerce in Germany - facts instead of myths. November 2008
    30. Deutsche Bundesbank, Newsletter 22nd edition, 06/2015, page 5
    31. Questions and answers on the introduction of the SEPA procedure. February 12, 2014, accessed November 30, 2016 .