An important step towards unity

From the end of 2023, the range of users of the Electronic Banking Internet Communication Standard (EBICS) will expand: in November of next year, the migration of payments systems from the proprietary Multi Bank Standard (MBS) used up to now will begin in Austria. For the companies in the Alpine republic, the changeover means work at first, but in the end it has clear advantages. Because with EBICS, there is a seamless connection to the largest European payments area around Germany and France. Obviously the banks do not leave their customers to make the switch on their own. First, however, the institutions themselves have to do their homework. In a joint interview, Thomas Bargehr, Product Manager Banking Solutions and Payment Services at Hypo Vorarlberg Bank AG, and Michael Lembcke, Leading Product Manager at PPI AG, talk about the schedule, advantages and procedures.


  1. Mr Bargehr, in July 2020, the Austrian banking industry declared its accession to the EBICS Company, and since then the introduction at the banks has been underway. How far along is your bank, what is the further roadmap?
    We are currently coordinating the requirements for automatic migration interfaces in the PSA (Payment Service Austria). They are to be used to transport data and authorisation methods from the legacy programmes and the MBS master data. This enables a user-friendly switch from MBS to EBICS. The migration itself is to follow from November 2023 according to the national project plan. From then on, all business customers must also switch to EBICS.

  2. Mr Lembcke, German financial institutions have been using EBICS for quite some time, and we have not heard of any problems. What advantages does this standard have for financial institutions compared to MBS?
    For corporate clients, cross-border multi-bank capability is particularly important. Too many different national standards or procedures cause additional work and disrupt processes. Standardisation also promotes possible process automation in the sense of straight-through processing (STP). At the architectural level, EBICS enables an innovative, contemporary design of payments systems.
  3. Mr Bargehr, the further development of MBS has been discontinued, so corporate customers will have to switch to EBICS at some point. This causes work for your corporate customers; what can be used to justify this?
    Since the introduction of the euro, payments and the formats to be supported by the customer software have been subject to constant change. So companies are already used to the fact that something changes every few years. The manufacturers of enterprise resource planning software usually accompany these developments in a timely and qualitatively excellent manner. Of course, the same also applies to our own house, which always sees itself as a reliable partner at our customers’ side.
  4.  Mr Lembcke, PPI AG is the market leader for EBICS solutions and has been involved in the standard from the very beginning. From a payments advisor's point of view, how is the introduction in Austria going?
    So far, no significant problems have been identified. The challenge, at best, is to make the transition as smooth as possible for all parties involved. Of course, as a manufacturer of EBICS software, it is our job to provide solutions. Obviously there was already a functioning e-banking standard in Austria with MBS. But in the future, the institutions and corporate customers in Austria will have a European multi-bank standard that is based on state-of-the-art architectures and will make payments in the country future-proof in the long term.
  5. Mr Bargehr, such a migration of data processing standards is by no means a trivial matter. How do you ensure that nothing goes wrong and there are no downtimes?
    We ascertain the current status of the customer well before the start of migration and thus determine any special requirements in terms of technology and support at an early stage. Accordingly, we then provide support for the companies until the migration. The keys to success are a clean transfer of customer accesses to the EBICS server, a short and at the same time manageable transition period as well as high-quality customer service.
  6.  Mr Lembcke, PPI AG has accompanied numerous migration projects towards EBICS. What approach do you recommend to a financial institution?
    There is no one-size-fits-all solution here. The procedure depends strongly on the strategy and customer structure of the individual institution. A big-bang migration, in which all customers are migrated at once, is quite conceivable. However, step-by-step migration scenarios are just as justified, even if parallel operation of EBICS and MBS becomes necessary. It is important to exchange information with the institution's corporate customers, whose migration plans should be queried. In any case, there is no reason for downtimes; migration during ongoing operation is absolutely feasible.
  7.  Mr Bargehr, EBICS does have regional differences; for example, France has insisted on some local adjustments. Are there also deviations from the EBICS standard case in Austria?
    Even though EBICS is not yet a standard in Austria, most banks already operate corresponding servers and clients due to market requirements. However, they have different strategies: some buy off-the-shelf solutions and operate them without further adaptation to national specifics. Others – and Hypo Vorarlberg is one of them – analyse precisely those local requirements and take them into account when designing their customer systems. For us, PPI has implemented the respective special cases into the payments solutions. Therefore, we have already been fully EBICS-ready since 2017.
  8. Mr Lembcke, does EBICS 3.0 have the potential to end the discussion about the need for additional, PSD2-compliant APIs?
    This is ultimately a discussion in which there can be no result in the sense of a decision. Because just as EBICS is an established standard mastered by all institutions, APIs are also an integral part of the IT landscape due to their number. Both will coexist for some time to come.
  9.  Mr Bargehr, what path will Hypo Vorarlberg Bank take? Do you offer additional interfaces or are you relying fully on EBICS for the time being?
    The smallest customers can continue to use our online banking as usual. However, small and medium-sized companies as well as large customers will work with us exclusively via EBICS in the future. We are taking the EBICS migration as an opportunity to gradually switch off old payments and banking systems and thus avoid double-tracking.
  10. Mr Lembcke, a lot is happening in European payments at the moment anyway; examples include the SWIFT migration or Request to Pay (RTP). How is EBICS to be classified in this context?
    The standard fulfils all the important requirements for harmonising the foreseeable changes in European payments with each other. For this reason alone, everything should be done to officially introduce EBICS in other countries. Attention should also be paid to standardising the way of use in order to increase acceptance. The areas of application are already diverse. For example, SEPA instant payments can be processed with EBICS, and RTP is supported in interbank communication. EBICS is the ticket for participation in payments of the future!

The European Retail Payments Strategy – an update

In today's article, we go into the development of the European payments strategy in a short interview. What is already in motion, what is new and what is on the horizon? We invited our colleague Swaantje – an expert in this field – to talk to us.

EBICS blog:
Hello Swaantje! Thank you for taking the time to be here. Would you like to tell us something about yourself first?

Hi! Yes, it's my pleasure. I am Swaantje Völkel, Managing Consultant in the Consulting Payments division of PPI AG in Hamburg and I focus on adjustments that are initiated at European level. This includes the EU Digital Finance Strategy and, more specifically, the EU Retail Payments Strategy.

EBICS blog:
What is the biggest challenge here?

Well, first things first – a strategy is not a law, but only a kind of declaration of intent, a framework plan for the future, for future events. There are no compulsory guidelines or deadlines, it is a process of growth, where observation, interpretation, experience and judgement are required.

EBICS blog:
So the desire for autonomy is strong, but the willingness to make it mandatory less so?

The EU Retail Payments Strategy is part of the EU Digital Finance Strategy. Both are driven by, among other things, the EU's Open Strategic Autonomy, and are intended to support it. Yes, that's right – the focus is clearly on promoting the EU's Open Strategic Autonomy. The EU Retail Payments Strategy describes 17 measures of varying scale and impact. One main topic is the review of PSD2 – this is where we start at PPI.

EBICS blog:
Does this mean that things are becoming more concrete here and that changes can be expected?

Indeed. The subject is slowly becoming more tangible: two current consultations are asking for feedback on the objectives of PSD2, including the question on how successful PSD2 has been in achieving its goals. Feedback should also include opinions on the enforcement of PSD2 by national regulatory authorities and any proposed changes that respondents believe should be made to the directive. There is also the question of whether the application scope, measures and procedures of PSD2 are appropriate, taking a forward-looking approach. Responses to these consultations are due to be submitted in the summer.

EBICS blog:
As the effort estimate is what's decisive – can any kind of prediction be made?

PSD2 has brought massive changes with the introduction of account access by third-party providers and new requirements for strong customer authentication. After the review and amendment of PSD2, we expect changes, but not quite such serious ones. There can still be big and important changes – just not as big as the initial introduction of PSD2. The bottom line is that we have a lot of work to do – because small changes can have a huge impact and vice versa, so I am reluctant to make predictions.
EBICS blog:
Is it helpful to take such a vague approach?

It grants us a valuable creative phase that has always provided useful insights so far. I refer to the difficult wayfinding last time. Secretly, however, we hope that the road to PSD3 won’t be quite as long as it was back then. In particular, delays are encouraged by the continuous lobbying, which on the one hand ensures progress on the strategy, but on the other hand unfortunately also means pointing out many competing wishes, evaluating them and trying to reconcile them. This is not an accelerating aspect.

EBICS blog:
In that case, be honest – when will the drafting of a PSD3 be achieved?

2023! (laughs)