On 21st January 2016 the Italian Competition Authority (the “ICA”) opened an in-depth investigation into the Italian Banking Association (hereinafter “ABI” or the “Accused Association”) operating in the market for the supply of banking services to businesses, for an alleged infringement of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“TFEU”); the prohibition of anti-competitive agreements or concerted practices.
The investigation stemmed from the 17th December 2013 when the ABI filed with the ICA the interbank agreement (the “Agreement”) for the providing of the service called Sepa Compliant Electronic Database Alignment (“SEDA”).
The ABI is the Italian banking association involving 626 banks (also foreign banks) along with financial intermediaries and other smaller banking associations. The Agreement was filed in order to get the preventive clearance of the ICA, as required by Italian laws. The SEDA is an optional add-on service established by the Agreement whereby all the banks belonging to the ABI offer to the businesses requiring information, about the financial soundness of the relative commercial counterpart. In particular, SEDA would work together with the Sepa Direct Debit service (“SEPA DD”), which is a banking service also provided by the ABI in order to assure the transfer of the funds from the debtor to the creditor in the ordinary course of trade.
In a nutshell, the ABI would offer on the one hand a basic system of electronic commercial payments (“SEPA DD”) and on the other hand the SEDA service, comprising important financial information. The SEDA and the SEPA DD cannot be provided separately.
The ICA alleges that the Agreement goes beyond the legitimate commercial practices as it would set forth a specific pricing system for the SEDA, impeding de facto the relative business to choose among different prices. Through this strategy, the businesses/clients involved would sustain far higher costs which they would have borne without the Agreement.
In light of the above, the ICA alleges that the conduct is incompatible with Article 101 of the TFEU as the Agreement would concern a large part of the Italian market, having the effect of reinforcing the partitioning of national markets within the European Union and reducing the economic integration of the Member States. The alleged wrongdoing is not proven at this stage and the investigation continues.