After having outlined the functionalities of the SEPA Request-to-Pay scheme developed by the European Payments Council (EPC), this blog article with focus on yet another new scheme of the EPC, namely the SEPA Proxy Lookup (SPL) scheme.
The SPL scheme enables customers in the EU to use their mobile device to transfer money from their payment account to the account of another EU citizen without manually exchanging payment information such as the IBAN.
What problem does the SPL scheme address?
While in the last years the usage of smartphones has fundamentally changed the daily life of consumers, including their payment behaviour, the existing mobile person-to-person (P2P) payment solutions remain mostly domestic and the underlying user experience for the payer and the payee remains reduced. This is because for most of the domestic P2P payment solutions for which the mobile phone can be used, the payer and the payee need to be registered at the same P2P payment service or the payer needs to know the payee’s payment details in order to successfully operate a mobile payment.
Indeed, the manual exchange of sensitive payment data like the IBAN leads to a fragile and inexpedient payment process.
What solution does the SPL scheme offer to that problem?
With the SPL scheme, a convenient way to allow any payment service user to initiate a pan-European (mobile) payment safely and securely by using a simple method with information (i.e. mobile number or email address) which the counterparty is prepared to share in order to enable a payment, should be ensured.
Thus, this lookup service will provide a mapping of a mobile number to an IBAN allowing the retrieval of the IBAN of the payee by the payment service provider of the payer on the basis of the mobile number of the latter. In other words, payment service users should be able to initiate payments on their mobile phone (app) without exchanging the IBAN and thus a seamless money transfer by mobile phone will be possible, which of course increases the user experience of the customer.
Moreover, payment service providers may avoid the costs related to the use of incorrect IBANs and increase efficiency in the handling of payment transactions.
How does the SPL scheme work?
As said before, the SPL scheme is an intelligent routing network where the mobile number is used as a proxy to the IBAN; without creating a new IBAN database. According to the SPL scheme rulebook, It requires the involvement of at least three parties, i.e. the Initiating Registry Provider (IRP), the Responding Registry Provider (RRP) and the SPL service provider (currently equensWordline), which intermediates between IRPs and RRPs and offers the API’s for the information exchange.
The IRP, for instance a financial institution or a payment service provider, will offer the SPL service to its customers that intents to initiate a payment. The RRP is on his part enrolling the customer that is the designated beneficiary of the payment and maintains a customer database where an individual record associates the mobile phone number or optionally the email address of the customer with an IBAN. Of course, the IRP and the RRP roles may be played by the same institution.
Concretely, the IRP, acting as an agent of its customer that is the initiator of a mobile payment and that uses a P2P mobile app to enter payee’s mobile number or optionally email address (proxy) in order to initiate a payment, sends a payee info request using the said data to the SPL service provider. Upon the verification of the IRP request, the SPL service provider forwards the request message to the RRPs and those of them having identified the mobile phone number (or optionally email address) as the one of an enrolled customer will provide as a response to the SPL query the IBAN associated to that particular mobile phone number (or optionally email address).
As such, the SPL scheme strengthens the interoperability between the different European mobile P2P payment solutions participating to it.
In this context, it is important to note that the SPL scheme should be considered as complementary to other SEPA schemes as it is limited to a look-up function with the sole purpose of initiating a payment. Indeed, the actual payment is not part of the SPL scheme and is covered by a parent payment scheme within the SEPA Geographic Area.
A true innovation and who is SEPA Proxy Lookup interesting for?
P2P payments without the manual exchange of the IBAN already exist, and famous providers where this works are PayPal or Klarna. With the introduction of the SPL scheme, the EPC aims at improving the competitiveness of payment service providers across the EU (including traditional banks) by enhancing the user experience for (cross-border) P2P payments of their clients. Banking apps offering the combined usage of the SPL scheme together with the SEPA Request-to-Pay scheme and a SEPA payment scheme (like SEPA Instant Credit Transfer) thus have the potential to increase the loyalty of customers towards their main bank as the payment account they hold with the latter will be all they need.
According to the EPC, SPL scheme participants will benefit from the fact that they can offer their customers proxy-based payment solutions on a pan-European level.
As recently outlined by the European Commission in its communication on a Retail Payments Strategy for the EU, payment service providers across the EU have not yet began to integrate the newly developed SPL scheme. It will be interesting to see if market participants will be ready to cope with the responsibilities awaiting them as IRP (e.g. implementation of a user interface for the access of customers to the SPL service whilst ensuring protection of sensitive data) or as RRP (e.g. maintenance of a system with an individual entry for each customer recording its mobile phone number, email address, identity, IBAN etc. and maintenance of a risk management program to ensure the integrity of the customer database).
With the recently updated SPL scheme rulebook that came into effect on 1 June 2020, the EPC has created the possibility for scheme participants acting as RRP to charge a fee in exchange of the services rendered to the IRP, thus creating new potential revenue streams.
Moreover, it is envisaged that the SPL scheme will evolve further over time to support additional proxy types, account identifiers, and use cases (like person-to-business payments or the delivery of an eReceipt).
The EPC has stated that the value of the SPL scheme is directly proportional to the number of scheme participants, which in turn means that first movers will need to show up.
Cover picture: Copyright © Adobe Stock / ronnachaipark