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Belgium SEPA migration progress: of total payments - 58% are SCTs and 12-15% SDDs

Belgium is by far the front-runner in the migration towards SEPA. In July 2012, the share of SCTs reached more than 58% of the total number of credit transfers made, a much higher proportion than in most other countries. The public authorities and big billers have to a large extent completed their migration; it is now up to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to make their changeover to SEPA.

The migration towards the SDD was a lot more difficult to start with. In response to a certain demand in the market from businesses wanting to settle their payments between each other, these companies started to use them, but only in the business-to-business (B2B) version, so the volumes remained at a very low level. However, at the end of 2011 one of Belgium's biggest billers started using the European direct debit, boosting the share of European direct debits to a level somewhere between 12% and 15%, compared with less than 1% in the rest of Europe.

In Belgium, there are 13,728 creditors who use the direct debit as a payment instrument. Together, they manage 31 million mandates (direct debits). The 10 biggest users account for 34% of the total number of direct debits, and the 20 largest creditors represent 44%. If this cross-selection is extended to the largest 200 creditors, this share even comes to almost 90%. The speed and efficiency of the migration towards the SDD are therefore, largely in the hands of a relatively small number of companies/creditors.

Until now, active communication on SEPA has remained fairly limited, pending publication of the European Parliament and Council Regulation designed to speed up migration towards the European payment instruments. This regulation has effectively clarified the picture: all transfers and direct debits must be executed in the European format by 1 February 2014. A good many SMEs still have to embark on their migration. Yet, a speedy and smooth transition is only possible if they are given all the information they need. Each stakeholder with a wide base of payment services users must make sufficient effort to pass on information about SEPA to them in good time.

Slowly, but surely, the Belgian payment systems landscape is falling into line with the reality of SEPA. The Bancontact/Mister Cash (BCMC) national debit card system is being adapted to the SEPA standards, and the Belgian payment card market is now completely opening to card issuers and payment card system operators. Moreover, interbank processing and clearing of retail payments, currently run by the NBB, have been outsourced to a major foreign service supplier (the French payments system, STET). Belgium is thus one of the first countries to have achieved the planned consolidation of clearing and settlement arrangements.

However, what about the rest of the eurozone?? What are the chances of several countries not making the February 2014 deadline, given, they have far bigger current problems than converting their payment systems? There are going to have to be many compromises to make the deadline, or will there be 'exceptions' allowed, yet again.

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