Borderless banking

Europeans can now use direct debit from their home account to pay bills anywhere in the EU.

This month marked the launch of a scheme that lets companies withdraw payments directly from a customer’s account in another EU country. Holiday home owners, students and retirees living abroad are among those who stand to benefit.

Direct debit spares bank customers the headache of having to write cheques or transfer money to settle bills. Typically, it is used to manage charges for recurring services like utilities, phone and magazine subscriptions.

Previously the system was limited to companies in the same country as the customer’s bank. But under the new scheme, more than 2,500 banks now offer direct debiting across national borders.

More will soon follow: all banks in eurozone countries must introduce cross-border direct debiting by November 2010. Non-eurozone banks have until November 2014.

An important step towards a truly integrated EU economy, the system is supported by new rules to ensure that direct debiting can be done as easily and securely from one country to another as at home.

Besides the 27 EU nations, five other countries are part of the programme: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Monaco.