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Debit Scheme launched in early 2011, working with the Harlands Group as our fi rst live customer,” says Natalie Willems- Rosman, head of international payments at RBS Group. “SEPA Direct Debits have allowed the Harlands Group, already a key player in gym membership fees collection in the UK, to expand into new regions: it is now collecting from Spain and the Netherlands. Harlands was quick to adopt the new standards and translate those into a unique model that allows gyms to manage their members’ collections ‘the SEPA way’.” She continues: “For businesses who want/need to start using SEPA Direct Debits, our advice is to start as soon as possible. It takes time to adopt the new way of working, but most importantly, this will allow them to benefi t as soon as possible. We are currently assisting businesses all across Europe with their journey to SEPA, and being a fi rst mover in the market has allowed us to get invaluable experience as to how the products work for our customers.”


Implementing the changes On a technical level, SEPA provides a cross-border solution with a set of standards for all participating countries. However, it also represents a change in the technology being used – a move from fl at fi le processing to xml fi le processing. SEPA therefore means a lot of change


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in how fl uent they’ve become in handling SEPA collections: despite systems being in place, the effi ciency of the system has been slow to develop and adoption of SEPA by the banks has been slow – perhaps not surprising given that the legacy systems still provide the vast majority of revenue for the banks. Adoption in the UK has been even


slower, but this is likely to change as SEPA becomes the norm in the Eurozone; indeed, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is already leading the way in the UK. Harlands’ SEPA solution has in fact been built with RBS, which has its own platform to accept SEPA fi le data; SEPA implementation relies on all banks providing for the handling of SEPA mandates, and unlike with BACS, SEPA fi les fl ow direct to the bank. “At RBS, we have actively been preparing for the change to SEPA. Our SEPA Direct


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for businesses operating in Europe, as payment messages and fi le format types will be different (changing from fl at fi le to xml). That means a change in the way data is submitted for direct debit submissions changes. Bank account details will also be different, switching to IBAN (international bank account number); all bank accounts will be referenced by IBAN from now on. This is specifi cally challenging for businesses using direct debits, as they will need to replace existing software generating direct debit fi les and learn to capture more data. All existing direct debits will also need to be re-signed in the SEPA format. Potentially the greatest concern is that


if you run a health club, or clubs, in the Eurozone, you will need to go back to each and every member and have them sign a new SEPA Direct Debit mandate, otherwise you will have no mechanism to collect the fees. At present, there is no indication that a method to ‘fl ip’ existing local or legacy direct debit (DD) mandates over to SEPA will be available – new mandates will need to be provided. New mandates can come from online


sources or hard copy paper, but as we all know, getting members back into clubs to complete a new DD mandate is not going


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