HVB: Streamlined for SEPA - Markus Straußfeld
The introduction of SEPA on 1 January 2008 will make payments much cheaper for corporates, yet many are still unclear on exactly how the process will work in real terms. Markus Straussfeld tells Mark Stuart how HypoVereinsBank is making this easier for its clients.
Handling the various payment formats throughout Europe can present a major headache for companies, incurring greater transfer costs and taking up time talking to different contacts. However, there is now a continuous wave of centralisation across the Euro zone, which will speed up with the introduction of SEPA on 1 January 2008.
SEPA will harmonise the payments system, enabling companies to optimise their financial supply chain management by using European-wide XML formats. But there are two major concerns – firstly, whether banks will have the relevant techniques and systems ready by the deadline and secondly, whether the banks’ automated operated systems (AOS) will be efficient, fit for purpose and glitch-free.
Markus Straussfeld of HypoVereinsBank (HVB) says that, as a member of Unicredit, HVB will be ready for XML tests along the whole financial supply chain as soon as customers are ready.
He explains: ‘From listening to its market technique and industry sector specialists, as well as with its customers, HVB has established two dominant issues for a corporate processing a large number of transactions and/or doing business in more than one country: do not reduce your straight-through processing (STP) average and optimise it along the whole financial supply chain. This includes automated matching within debtor and creditor management.’
BENEFITS OF DIRECT CONNECTION
HVB facilitates these concerns by connecting corporates directly to UniCredit via SwiftNet technology. With SwiftNet you can process payment files regardless of their format – whether local or cross border – so corporates can have a single gateway, worldwide, to connect directly with banks.
SwiftNet gives high security and availability, as well as good performance for transmitting large files. Unicredit already receives more than 100 million payments via SwiftNet annually, and the number of corporates connecting is constantly growing.
HVB, which is Germany’s third largest bank in terms of consolidated assets, has developed a large variety of formats that can deliver and receive via SwiftNet. For example, Straussfeld explains: ‘We offer a product called European Gate. This enables customers to send files to one single Unicredit location, which then distributes any file to any group location using local and/or global formats. It’s cheaper than cross-border transmission because you can forward files in-house to the final destination for payment execution.’
COUNTRIES CAN BE FORMATTED
While SEPA will undeniably make transaction costs cheaper for many companies, there are an increasing number of countries entering the European economic arena that will not be members of SEPA – Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey are three examples.
Payments going back and forth between these countries and SEPA members are increasing all the time – but companies wanting to do business with them need not be concerned that their absence from SEPA will necessarily incur problems.
‘Say you work with ten SEPA countries, plus Turkey,’ Straussfeld suggests. ‘HVB can receive the SEPA format and convert it into Turkey’s national format. When SEPA is introduced, we’ll be able to standardise payment orders, whether transfers or direct debits, for any non-SEPA countries covered by UniCredit.’
HVB offers a single gateway to connect to all these countries, a single electronic banking tool and one call centre in case of queries, and it can convert to a single format, such as SAP i-doc, UN/EDIFACT, MT 101/104 or local payment formats.
However, Straussfeld does not anticipate a large number of payments using SEPA immediately. ‘The legal environment will not be fully in place until 2009, and until that happens, we might expect to see a few companies using it for transfers, but not direct debits. We think that SEPA will experience a slow start – but after that it will be interesting to see what happens.’