Companies have to prepare for the changes in how payments are made

Last week the European Central Bank published its second report on the readiness of countries in the euro area for the changeover to the Single European Payment Area, SEPA, and it became clear that Estonian companies still have a lot to do in the next three months. In the euro area as a whole, 56.3% of payments meet the SEPA requirements, but in Estonia only 1.5% do.

The banks in Estonia are on schedule with the changes required for the migration to SEPA and will have them made by 1 February 2014. As the changes have not yet been rolled out in full and this will largely be done in the next few months, there is an increased risk of payments being temporarily impeded. Problems may arise if there is not enough time for testing upgraded systems, including those between banks and companies. It is currently only cross-border euro payments that meet the SEPA conditions, which is why the total figure is so low at 1.5%. It is also worth noting that the banks in Estonia make payments to each other using the local retail payment system run by Eesti Pank and will do so until the end of January next year. Only once the Eesti Pank settlement system has closed will banks migrate all their payments into the pan-European retail payment system. The banks have already made all the preparations needed for this to happen.

“The figures in the European Central Bank’s report just under one hundred days before the deadline are certainly a cause for concern. The migration to the SEPA is not a project that only affects banks, as it will also require companies to make a lot of important changes”, said Madis Müller, Deputy Governor of Eesti Pank.

By 1 February 2014, public sector institutions and private companies need to be able to use the international IBAN form of their bank account numbers and to start sending payments and e-invoices to the bank using the new standards. The preparations of large companies and public sector institutions are generally satisfactory as they have started making preparations and will have them ready in time. For smaller companies the situation is a little more complicated.

Müller noted that businesses are better placed than they were in the spring, but the awareness levels of small companies are still low. “Companies generally believe that the necessary changes will be made to their databases, invoices, websites and elsewhere in time. But the new report and the review of the current state of preparations show that small businesses in particular still have a lot to do for all the changes to be made in time”. He added that Estonian companies are generally flexible and this gives hope that companies will manage to make the changes in the next three months or use the conversion services that will be put in place for making payments during the transition period.

To help make the transition as smooth as possible, bank clients will have an extra year until 1 February 2015 during which they can use conversion services where the banks change account numbers into the new format for private clients, though not for companies, and convert payments sent by companies into the ISO 20022 XML format.

Read more from the Bank of Estonia website

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