1000 reports of IBAN discrimination submitted via Accept My IBAN

France accounts for 2 out of 5 complaints

Brussels, August 2021 - Accept My IBAN, a coalition of companies that came together to combat the illegal practice of IBAN discrimination, announces today that it has received 1000 complaints of IBAN discrimination just five months after launch. To mark that milestone of 1000 reports submitted by consumers and businesses in the EU, Accept My IBAN shares its initial results, which show that France accounts for over 40% of IBAN discrimination. Spain and Germany both make up around 15% of cases, making them distant seconds.

IBAN discrimination is when a bank, merchant or public body refuses to accept non-local IBANs. For example, when a French telecoms provider refuses to accept an IBAN that doesn’t start with FR (the country code for France). Under SEPA law providers are obliged to accept IBANs regardless of the EU country they’re from.

The Accept My IBAN initiative, spearheaded by Wise, brought together a range of businesses, including banks, financial technology companies and even the e-Residency of Estonia programme. The companies represent millions of consumers and businesses across the EU who live and work internationally and have experienced financial friction. 

Initially launched on World Consumer Rights Day (15 March), Accept My IBAN has garnered interest from consumers and businesses who have fallen victim to IBAN discrimination. The issue, which has been illegal since 2014 under SEPA regulations, still affects people in the EU on a daily basis. While it’s particularly rampant among telecoms providers, the public sector regularly resorts to discrimination against non-local bank accounts.

Telecoms providers and the public sector are among the biggest culprits

Accept My IBAN can reveal that the tax authorities in EU countries such as France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands have featured among consumer complaints of IBAN discrimination. Discrimination by public institutions is particularly worrying and can be found even at the highest levels: in July 2021, following public pressure the European Parliament had to U-turn on its decision to only allow salaries to be paid out to local (Belgian) bank accounts.

Consistently, public tax authorities seem to make it hard for consumers to pay or get paid using a non-local IBAN, especially those in Spain and France. But more worryingly, consumers complain that benefits such as disability support or unemployment benefits are impossible to receive without a local IBAN. During the pandemic, more people relied on government support and barriers such as IBAN discrimination have caused unnecessary stress.

The French public healthcare and health insurance provider is one of the most featured organisations, making up 7% of European cases and 1 in 6 cases in France. Consumers are forced to open a French bank account (with an IBAN starting with FR), because the organisation claims their system doesn’t work with any other letters. This means that consumers struggle to get their medical costs refunded and some may be temporarily pushed into debt.

Across the EU, telecoms providers make up a large chunk of discriminating organisations. In countries such as Spain and Italy, they account for nearly half of all reported instances of IBAN discrimination. Surprisingly in Italy, it often concerns organisations which have already been fined by Italy’s Antitrust Authority (AGCM): Wind Tre, Vodafone, Fastweb and TIM. 

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All consumer reports of IBAN discrimination submitted via the form on the Accept My IBAN website have been shared with the European Commisison, who will use this data as additional insights to make sure countries comply with SEPA law. The European Commission has already launched infringement procedures against Member States. These procedures are still ongoing. The Commission has the ability to hold national competent authorities - who are primarily responsible for ensuring IBAN discrimination doesn’t happen - to account. 

Arun Tharmarajah, Head of Europe at Wise, says: “Our customers, and consumers in the EU more broadly, have continued to fall victim to IBAN discrimination when the law should be protecting them. We knew this issue was rampant, but were shocked to see the scale and spread. However, we’re pleased that - alongside our coalition partners - we’ve been able to shine a light on this illegal practice. Accept My IBAN has exposed the worst offenders in the EU and we hope policymakers and regulators take appropriate action to make this a thing of the past. It goes against everything the EU stands for: protecting consumers in the single market.”

Thomas Grosse, Chief Banking Officer at N26, says: “As a Pan-European bank, IBAN discrimination means that customers cannot enjoy all the advantages offered by N26, and our coalition partners, who are creating a better and borderless banking experience across Europe.  IBAN discrimination enforces a uneven playing field, as it ultimately leaves consumers with less competitive options to choose from for their banking needs. Our sole aim together with Wise and the Accept My IBAN campaign has been to set the right standards for consumers to access the innovation and consumer protection that innovative FinTechs offer."

About Wise

Wise is a global technology company, building the best way to move money around the world. With the Wise account people and businesses can hold over 50 currencies, move money between countries and spend money abroad. Large companies and banks use Wise technology too; an entirely new cross-border payments network that will one day power money without borders for everyone, everywhere. However you use the platform, Wise is on a mission to make your life easier and save you money.

Co-founded by Kristo Käärmann and Taavet Hinrikus, Wise launched in 2011 under its original name TransferWise. It is one of the world’s fastest growing, profitable technology companies and is listed on the London Stock Exchange under the ticker, WISE.

16 million people and businesses use Wise, which processes over €10 billion in cross-border transactions every month, saving customers over €1.6 billion a year.

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