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Our retail payments strategy

The way you pay and receive money across Europe is constantly evolving. We want to make sure we evolve alongside the latest trends and technologies, and that the payment services you use remain safe as well as reliable, easy, and fast.

All Europeans should be offered payment services that can be used across Europe, whether for paying bills or when shopping in physical shops and online. That’s why we have put in place a strategy that will support the creation of a pan-European payment solution and improve instant payments, among other things.

Our retail payments strategy and the digital euro project are complementary. Both initiatives aim to achieve a higher level of efficiency, strategic autonomy and resilience in retail payments, as well as supporting digitalisation and innovation.

A digital euro could contribute to the goals of the strategy in multiple ways. For example, it would offer a pan-European payment solution, making as much use as possible of existing industry standards, components and technology. In turn, this would help private payment solutions to become more cost-efficient, enabling them to also achieve a pan-European reach.

Payments anywhere in Europe

Customers should be able to make payments at the physical point-of-sale or via e-commerce, including on their mobile, throughout the entire European Union just as efficiently and safely as in their home countries. At the moment we lack a pan-European solution for payments made in physical shops or online.

The European Payments Initiative is a market initiative aiming to establish a new payment solution for people and merchants across Europe. It will include a digital wallet that can be used to pay in physical shops, online and in person-to-person transactions.

The Eurosystem is open to any market initiative that is working to meet five key objectives: pan-European reach and customer experience, convenience and low cost, safety and efficiency, European brand and governance, and global acceptance (in the long run).

Strengthening the Single Euro Payments Area

In its first ten years, the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) consisted of the payment schemes for credit transfer (SCT) and direct debit (SDD), which are widely used for paying your bills and recurring expenses. These basic schemes need to be future-proofed to address the changing needs of their users. 

In parallel, the Eurosystem aims to ensure that all SEPA users also have the option to use instant payments. Instant payments are electronic retail payments that are processed in real time 24/7 and in which the funds are made available to the recipient immediately. On the basis of an initiative from the Euro Retail Payments Board (ERPB) in December 2014, an instant payments scheme (SCT Inst) was developed by the European payments industry and launched in November 2017. However, payment service providers have been slow to join and deploy it to users.

We monitor the use of instant payments and, together with the other central banks of the Eurosystem, want instant payments to live up to their full potential. That’s why our strategy states that instant payments should be made available to all citizens and businesses across Europe and offered under attractive conditions, with additional functionalities such as requesting a payment.

How to make instant payments the new normal in Europe?

Cross-border payments

Cross-border payments are payments where European users either transfer or receive money from outside Europe. These payments facilitate cross-border trade, investment and remittances, but are currently expensive, slow and complex, making it difficult for consumers and businesses to send and receive money from a non-euro area or non-European country.

One of the goals of our strategy is to help European businesses and people make and receive payments abroad.

The ECB and Sveriges Riksbank have started to investigate whether TIPS can be used to settle cross-currency payments between euro and Swedish krona. In April 2020 the ECB and Sveriges Riksbank reached an agreement to enable electronic payments in Swedish krona to be settled using the Eurosystem’s TIPS platform.

Sweden joins ECB’s instant payments settlement platform ECB to explore cross-currency instant payments

Increasing the resilience of retail payments

In the light of recent external developments, the robustness of our payments needs to be improved to make them more resistant to disruptions. Moreover, there should be a fallback option in case one type of payment solution temporarily stops working. Finally, users themselves should consider having one or more alternatives.

An innovative European payments ecosystem 

The traditional payments business is increasingly being challenged by new players and disruptive technologies. Financial technology (fintech) companies have accelerated innovation and the evolution of retail payments. In response, our retail payments strategy addresses the role of European fintech companies, and the Eurosystem has opened a European fintech payments dialogue for the purpose of discussing payments-related topics with these companies. A different topic is addressed at each meeting, and participants are invited on the basis of suggestions from European national central banks. Meeting summaries are published here.

  • 2 December 2021 European fintech payments dialogue – open banking and application programming interfaces (APIs) – summary 
  • 22 February 2022 European fintech payments dialogue - e-ID in relation to payments – summary 
  • 28 March 2023 European fintech payments dialogue – the use of stablecoins and unbacked crypto-assets for retail payments - summary

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