Interview

The current state of the European payments landscape - interview Thibault de Barsy, PA EU

Friday 10 December 2021 07:28 CET | Editor: Anda Kania, Mirela Ciobanu | Interview

Thibault de Barsy from Payments Association EU portrays for The Paypers’ readers the current state of the European payments landscape: not only the hard times but also the opportunities and initiatives

For our readers who might not be familiar: what is the Payments Association EU, and why was it founded? Furthermore, what is your role in the association?

The Payments Association EU is a business club of decision-makers in the payments industry. Our members are enterprises from all components of the payments value chain in the 27 countries of the European Union. Our Association is a non-profit association registered in Luxembourg, and we were built on the international network of our London-based sister association, the Payments Association (PA). 

The purpose of the Association is to facilitate business for its members. PA EU seeks to achieve this by organising events and conversations, publishing research documents, and providing training. We are not a lobby group as such, we are involved in hosting direct conversations between the regulators and our members from the payments industry, providing them with a platform to ask and answer questions, as well as exchange opinions and viewpoints.

Our organisation is driven and supported by our members: I am always amazed at the extent to which our members contribute to our events and content. Our memberships are all-inclusive, so our Association is not about what the biggest sponsor wants to do. Instead, all our members propose the topics and objectives, and we organise our events and content around their input.

Who is part of the Payments Association, i.e., what is the composition of your member base?

We are not a fintech club, nor are we a banking club: we are a payments club. In other words, our members are comprised of banks, PSPs, credit card companies, electronic money institutions, as well as any other players in the payment value chain. For now, there is a stronger representation of fintechs and credit card companies than of banks, but we are in talks with major European banks, who are eager to join as well and have already attended our events. 

For an up-to-date overview of our members, you can check our website. At the time of recording, this is not published yet, but our newest member is SWIFT, which we are very excited to have on board.

You have recently hosted the online conference PAY360; what were the most prominent topics that were discussed there? What debates are front-of-mind for the European fintech industry? 

The event was a great success! Dr. Dirk Haubrich, from the European Banking Authority, was one of our headliners, answering questions from our members. At our events there are no moderators and no speeches: there are only peers, talking to each other and asking questions. This allowed Dirk to freely speak his mind and give our members a true insight into the opinions of the regulator.

Another hot topic was the European Payment Initiative (EPI). Many of our members have mobile applications throughout Europe, so they are very concerned by the top-down approach that the EPI might represent. During another forum, we invited Martina Weimert, chief executive of EPI, who was very good at explaining the different aspects of the project to our members. The lack of speeches and monologues is essential to this type of discourse: both Martina and our members enjoyed the interactive nature of the discussion, so we were happy to provide them with the platform. 

What are the underserved payments needs in Europe, both for C2B and B2B? 

For C2B, the most important need is access to affordable instant payments. There still exist enormous differences between countries in the EU regarding the use of cash, credit cards, or invoice, but the next generation is moving towards instant payments. But even so, the price and access to instant payments still vary wildly between countries, so there is a tremendous opportunity for players to offer instant payments to those underserved countries.

On the B2B side, the most important need is the interoperability of different B2B platforms. The cost, speed, and FX of cross-border transactions remain the main priorities for the B2B sector. Thanks to the European framework there are a lot of players in our payment ecosystem, and they compete on a level playing field. This drives innovation in cross-border payments on a level that we do not see anywhere else in the world. Therefore, Europe has the opportunity to be the world leader in payments. In the US, the innovations are completely driven by market forces, so they lack the level playing field for smaller players to exist alongside large corporates. In China, there are government-imposed restrictions which also limits the diversity of offerings. In Europe, there is a more level playing field and we have thousands of companies that have emerged from the licensing opportunities that were provided by European regulations such as PSD1 and PSD2, and you can see that this pays dividends when you look at the number of payment solutions in Europe and their effectiveness.

How have you seen the European payment landscape evolve over the last few years, and how do you think it will develop?

The cocktail of transformation and innovation is creating constant change at a very high pace – factors that typically force collaboration. While most people were talking about ‘disruption’ 5 years ago, it is now evident that the partnership model has prevailed. Most incumbents now understand that leveraging third parties to enhance their capabilities outside of their narrow core provides a much better way of scaling and adapting to the rapidly changing conditions than trying to do everything in-house.  

To conclude: everyone is currently moving into the fight for the end client. Banks, traditional payment companies, bigtechs, and everyone else with a client book they can either monetise or use to generate data are part of the payment race. From traditional banks like Santander to ride-hailing apps like Uber to a traditional carmaker like Volkswagen, everyone is moving into payments. I think the industry will grow even faster over the next decade than it has in the preceding decade, as more and more businesses embed invisible financial services into their product or service to enhance the client experience. In this way, the payment industry is very attractive and remains very exciting.

About Thibault de Barsy

Thibault de Barsy is the General Manager of The Payments Association EU since its founding in 2020. Thibault was formerly CEO of Keytrade Bank Luxembourg and has over 25 years of experience in the financial and ICT sector. Thibault is a guest lecturer at the Solvay Brussels of Economics and Management. He is a recurrent guest speaker on the Belgian news TV channel ‘LN24’ and many forums of the financial industry. Before settling in Luxembourg, he held different marketing & sales positions across banks, insurance, telco, and credit card companies. Thibault holds a Master of Science in Management from the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management and a CEFA certificate from the Belgian Association of Financial Analysts.

About PA EU

The Payments Association EU is a business club of decision makers in the payments industry. Their members are the enterprises forming all the components of the payments value chain in the 27 countries of the European Union. The Purpose of the Association is to facilitate business for its members. PA EU seeks to achieve its objectives by organizing events, managing projects defending the interests of its members, publishing research documents and providing training.


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Keywords: digital payments, fintech, B2B payments, EPI, PSP
Categories: Payments & Commerce | Online Payments
Countries: Europe
This article is part of category

Payments & Commerce