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How regulations can increase competition and innovation in the banking sector: the EU example

By Bruno Gremez and Samir Kasmi, Co-founder of Fincluziv, Smart Fintex and CT&F Partners and ex-bankers (BNP Paribas, Société Générale, ABN AMRO).

The payment services industry in the European Union (EU) has experienced tremendous changes in the last 5 years thanks to the implementation of a new regulatory framework.

The first Payment Services Directive (PSD 1) was adopted by the EU in 2007 with the aim of creating a single payment services market across the EU in order to improve efficiency, competition and innovation in the European payment services industry.

PSD1 created a new type of regulated firms called Payment Institutions (PIs), which are able, amongst others, to open accounts, process payments and issue debit cards.

PSD1 also defined prudential requirements that PIs have to comply with and that are proportionate to the operational and financial risks that they take in their activities:

PSD1 was implemented by each member state’s regulators and has opened the European payment services market to non-banks such as FinTechs. These new players’ offer customers the possibility to open accounts very quickly (in some cases just a few minutes), effect payments and transfers in different currencies, and receive a debit card linked to their account. These services are offered at much lower costs than similar services from banks, and the customer’s experience is also improved thanks to the digitalization of services and the technological innovations involved.

The EU Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD 2) will come in effect in January 2018. PSD 2 will allow customers to use third parties for services such as bill payments, transfers, financial analysis of their revenues, spending habits, etc… while keeping their money with their existing banks. Therefore, PSD 2 will require banks to give third parties access to information on their customers’ accounts (with the consent of customers) through API (application programme interface). PSD 2 should increase competition and efficiency in the EU payment industry.

Although the population of the EU is relatively well banked compared to the rest of the world, the emergence of PIs has facilitated financial inclusion. For example, in France, one of the countries in Europe with the highest proportion of banked population, the French Central Bank still estimates that there are around 2.4 million underbanked people and 500,000 people without a bank account. Some new PIs, such as Compte-Nickel, have already facilitated access to basic banking services for this segment of the population.

Such type of new players could definitely improve financial inclusion in emerging markets where large parts of the population do not have bank accounts but have access to smartphones and internet. However, this requires regulations that favor innovation, competition and, at the same time, protect customers.

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