Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anti-competitive practices

Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anti-competitive practices

The European Commission (EC) has confirmed its officials carried out unannounced inspections in “a few member states” concerning online access to bank account information by competing service providers.

The EC doesn’t name the countries involved, but “according to people familiar with the matter” that spoke to the Financial Times, Poland and the Netherlands are among them.

The Dutch banking association confirmed to the FT that the commission visited the trade body’s offices last week and they were co-operating fully with EU authorities. Poland’s banking association and national competition office could not immediately be reached for comment by the FT.

The Commission says it has concerns that the companies involved and/or the associations representing them may have engaged in anti-competitive practices in breach of European Union (EU) antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices and/or abuse of dominant market positions.

These alleged anti-competitive practices are aimed at excluding non-bank owned providers of financial services – i.e. fintech firms – by preventing them from gaining access to bank customers’ account data, despite the fact that the respective customers have given their consent to such access.

Last week’s raids were the first to be carried out by the EC over worries that banks are behaving in a cartel-like manner over customer accounts. This development is a clear sign of the EC’s intentions ahead of the second Payment Services Directive PSD2, which is coming in January 2018.

Also, as reported in May, a group of fintech companies and associations were asking for changes to PSD2 due to fears it will force them to become technologically dependent on banks.

Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anti-competitive practices. The EC says the fact that it carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies or their associations are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

The mission

The EC has been on a mission to improve fintech in Europe.

Last month, the EC was proposing reforms to pave the way for further financial integration and a full capital markets union – with a handy boost to fintech included.

While in March, it unveiled its action plan for consumers and asked for feedback on its fintech ambitions. The EC said it wants to prise open national barriers as only 7% of consumers currently buy financial services from another EU member state.