Corporates respond by moving accounts to other countries, pushing banks to drop the fee and lobbying regulators.
The number of banks charging corporates a fee for payments going from the UK to countries in the single euro payments area (SEPA) is growing, and some NeuGroup members are taking action to minimize the impact.
- Echoing what treasurers in Europe reported at a recent meeting, the head of cash product at a UK-based bank said that “a lot more banks in Europe are now charging” the fee, including some large institutions.
- One member is working with a bank (that does not charge the fee) to lobby regulatory bodies to limit these types of fees and deductions. “We view this as a fee grab in a post-Brexit world of financial services,” he said.
Quick background. Corporates began seeing these so-called fees for receipt in January, following the last-second Brexit deal finalizing the UK’s exit from the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA). Withdrawal from the EEA meant banks could start charging for receipt of SEPA payments from non-EEA accounts.
- This put the UK in the same category as Switzerland, which is also a member of SEPA but not in the EU.
Unacceptable or fair? In some cases, the receipt fee is deducted from the principal payment by the beneficiary bank. As SEPA payments are mostly used for payroll and suppliers, members said they find this “unacceptable.” When the UK was still in the EU, payments were protected from deduction by a regulation called the Payment Services Directive 2.
- The receiving banks for payroll and supplier payments are chosen by beneficiaries, making it very difficult to change banks. That gives the existing banks pricing power, at least in the short-term, to charge new fees.
- “What does SEPA membership mean, if it doesn’t mean the absence of fees?” said NeuGroup senior executive advisor and former banker Paul Dalle Molle. “Why should Switzerland and the UK be a member of SEPA if this is the result? It doesn’t make sense.”
- One bank with a large European presence told NeuGroup Insights that these “new fees are likely being applied to compensate for the increased costs caused by Brexit for the banking system.” The bank did not say whether it charges the fee.
Fighting back. In some cases, members report success contesting the SEPA payment fee. “I advise [you] to challenge the fee with the bank, or find another bank,” one member said. He acknowledged that is an unsustainable solution for corporates that may use a UK-based account for payroll across the continent.
- To get around the fees, multiple members who once used UK-based accounts for payroll have opened accounts in other locations across Europe, with Dublin and Luxembourg emerging as hot spots. However, migration could prove costly for a company with a limited number of accounts.
- Another member has resorted to issuing wire transfers, which incur higher fees than SEPA payments but are more predictable and guarantee protection of the principal payment.
- “Lobbying, using wires, switching to EEA-based remitting accounts and switching banks are all smart things to do,” said Mr. Dalle Molle. “When the European regulators hear complaints and see a drop in SEPA volume, they’ll go back to the banks and say, ‘What are you doing?’”
- US and UK-based banks are also developing solutions to resolve the issue. For example, one member is working with a bank to develop a technical solution—a monthly subscription in which the bank guarantees protection of the principal and eats the cost of SEPA fees.
Varying fee sizes. As the fees are applied in a case-by-case basis, the amount charged can also vary. Depending on the bank, this could be applied as a fixed fee or a percentage.
- One NeuGroup member said the fee charged was around three euros. But another member said he was told a large payment would incur a fee of 600 euros, which he called “bordering on the completely ludicrous.”
- Another member said that his company is also seeing a charge based on volume, which he called “outrageous,” though he is only seeing it from “a select few [banks], it’s not yet across the board.”