With over 287 million Maestro cards in
circulation in Europe, MasterCard is easily the dominant debit
scheme within the region. Over the last couple of years, Visa
Europe’s V PAY debit scheme has begun to nip at Maestro’s heels,
having recently secured issuance deals in Germany and Italy.

If recent reports are to be believed, there may be a new debit
scheme in the offing. But if MasterCard and Visa are worried about
being challenged by the upstart, they’re certainly not showing

A group of European banks – ABN AMRO, Allianz Dresdner, ING,
Rabobank, UniCredit, Deutsche Bank, Société Générale and
Commerzbank – are reportedly considering establishing their own
debit scheme in Europe. The banks are allegedly unhappy at the
prospect of European debit payments being controlled by what they
perceive to be US-owned entities, most notably MasterCard.

There is some confusion over how far discussions have gone and
whether there are any definite plans in place. When contacted by
CI, Société Générale was the only bank willing to comment. Hélène
Agabriel, a spokeswoman for Société Générale, told CI: “In the
context of the Single Euro Payments Area, European banks need to
evolve in terms of their banking cards. Société Générale is
studying different possible solutions. At this stage, there are
many different options and there is no specific project under

Not worried by competition

However, MasterCard and Visa appear unfazed by the prospect of a
new debit scheme appearing on the horizon. Javier Perez, president
at MasterCard Europe, said: “We welcome more competition in the
European debit marketplace. With Maestro – one of the first
European cross-border payments systems – we have a highly
successful and recognised debit card product. To date, Maestro
remains Europe’s most widely accepted and used SEPA-compliant debit

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Meanwhile, Fiona Wilkinson, senior vice-president of corporate
communications at Visa Europe, is bullish about the prospects for V
PAY: “Europe’s banks are already proving their appetite for V PAY.
We already have an acquiring network of over 3.75 million merchants
and 210,000 ATMs. As the only truly European payment scheme, owned
and governed by 4,500 European banks, Visa Europe is best placed to
focus on meeting the needs of European stakeholders while retaining
global interoperability. And as the only major payment scheme to
declare SEPA compliance a year ahead of the deadline, we are
relaxed at the prospect of any new card systems entering the

Significant development for SEPA

The establishment of a new pan-European debit scheme would be a
highly significant development in the Single Euro Payments Area,
according to UK payment research and consultancy Lafferty Group,
which claims several of the banks cited as clients. “While regional
and savings banks within the eurozone have long supported the idea
of developing an alternative European scheme, it had been believed
that there was not enough support amongst the big commercial banks
to make it a reality. The news that some of Europe’s largest banks
are now looking into the idea makes the emergence of such a scheme
much more credible,” it stated in a client note. However, the group
declined to comment when contacted by CI.

According to the group, both the European Commission (EC) and
European Central Bank (ECB) have placed pressure on European banks
to develop a European alternative to Visa and MasterCard. “The EC
and ECB are concerned that competition in the market would be
undermined by the emergence of Maestro as the dominant player in
the market, particularly as Visa’s rival scheme, V PAY, does not
seem to have gained widespread support from European banks,”
Lafferty said.

According to the consultancy, a working party has been
established to look at the feasibility of using the Euro Alliance
of Payment Schemes (EAPS) as a basis for forming the new scheme. So
far, EAPS has established links between domestic card processing
bodies, including Germany’s ZKA, Italy’s COGEBAN and Euro6000 of

The move comes at a time when several of the banks involved in
the plan are facing merger and acquisition speculation, and it
remains to be seen whether they would have the technical
infrastructure and investment resources needed to establish a rival
to MasterCard and Visa. Only last year, Bank of America, the US’s
second-largest bank, abandoned plans to set up its own payment and
processing network in the US due to the cost and logistics