Viewing and paying bills on-line sparks consumer appeal

Canadian consumers and businesses are becoming more geared toward Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment (EBPP), according to a joint survey released by Web development and Internet billing specialists Optus Corp. and The Angus Reid Group.

“The main purpose (of the survey) was to gain insight from a consumer and business perspective of the main benefits and barriers of electronic bill presentment and payment,” said Camilla Lauricella, vice-president of technology research with Toronto-based Angus Reid.

EBPP refers to receiving, viewing and paying bills and statements via the Web. According to Optus , it has been widely called one of the next killer applications of the Internet.

“The killer application notion came out of the belief that this is actually probably some of the most compelling content you could offer to customers that would ensure that they come back to your Web site consistently,” said Jon Hantho, president and COO of Optus in Toronto.

According to the survey, 53 per cent of Canadians are aware of EBPP and 35 per cent are interested in using the technology. Interest jumped to 47 per cent for those who have access to the Internet. Nearly nine in 10 Canadian businesses that issue bills and statements to consumers are actively considering delivering those documents via the Web. Furthermore, 85 per cent of those companies plan to stop sending traditional paper statements.

IDC Canada Internet analyst Jordan Worth said EBPP is a cost -saving option.

“The cost of transmitting a bill electronically is a mere fraction of what it would cost to handle the paper processing and postage needs,” Worth said.

“It’s quicker. Getting it to the client quicker means (the biller) will get paid faster.”

Business survey respondents said electronic bill presentment and payment will be the option of choice for nearly one-third (29 per cent) of their customer base within the next two years.

“These aggressive predictions are very realistic, given the extent of on-line activities already being undertaken by Canadians,” Hantho said. But, he continued, on-line payment is not a catch-all option.

“Some people will still want it in paper, so [billers] will have to support two infrastructures.”

According to the survey, less than 10 per cent of Canada’s top billing organizations operate fully-functional EBPP systems where customers can do everything on-line in good time – from bill receipt to payment to account inquiry.

Hantho said 56 per cent of Canadian companies contemplating EBPP are still in the planning stage, yet 40 per cent think they can get their system operational in six to 12 months.

Angus Reid’s Lauricella said that from a consumer perspective, there are numerous benefits of EBPP. “The top two that came out were convenience of one location and then instant access or instant payment,” she said.

Business respondents identified cost reduction as the primary corporate driver of EBPP, according to 71 per cent of respondents. Customer relationship management came in second, at 69 per cent.

However, IDC’s Worth said there is still one major drawback.

“You (have to) have a computer to be able to receive these bills, and not everyone does,” Worth said. “There is a large percentage of the population that isn’t in the position to receive these bills.”