Toronto Hydro Wednesday said it was extending its commitment to e-billing by offering its customers payment options through its own Web site.

About two years ago Toronto Hydro became of the first Canadian utilities to give customers a way to view and pay their bills over the Web through a

service provided by Webdox, which is owned by E-Route. That service requires customers to pay their bills through their bank or other financial institution.

The utility will now offer payments through its torontohydro.com/ebills service, using technology from Winnipeg-based TelPay Inc. Toronto Hydro customers can click on the “”PayNow!”” button and be taken to the company’s secure online transaction processing centre.

The electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP) market typically consists of the “”biller direct”” model whereby companies offer payment through their own sites or the “”consolidator”” model, where a bank allows payment of multiple bills through a company like E-Route or Canada’s Post’s Epost, which does the same thing.

Roman Dementavicius, Toronto Hydro’s IT system delivery manager, described the move as a way of filling a gap in its customer service offering. Prior to the relationship with TelPay, he said, customers could view their bill and check their meter reading at Toronto Hydro’s site, but they couldn’t pay their bill. More than 70 per cent of Toronto Hydro’s e-billing customers are registered directly with its own site, while about 25 per cent are registered exclusively with Webdox, and some are registered with both.

“”Our numbers are upside-down based on what I was led to believe when we started into this over two years ago,”” he said. “”The premise there was that about 10 per cent of customers will choose to deal with you directly, 10 per cent may choose a third-party consolidator like an Epost and such, and the majority, 80 per cent, will go to a consolidated financial institution.””

TelPay president Brian Denysuik said the choice typically comes down to convenience.

“”People don’t like to chase their bills,”” he said. “”I think that we’re going to see changes in the adoption rate as we all become more familiar with the fact that it’s easier to receive it electronically, easier to pay. You don’t have to step outside of your house to do it.””

Dementavicius said Toronto Hydro has already begun a number of marketing activities to bring awareness to the TelPay option, but he’s not sure what proportion will take advantage of it. “”There has been some take-up, but it’s been slow,”” he said. “”The numbers we’ve seen are not overwhelming, but it’s early.””

“”Biller direct is costly, there’s no two ways about it,”” he said. “”It’s far cheaper to go the consolidator route or have somebody serve as a front-to-service for you. . . . Certainly for a smaller institution or utility it could be prohibitive.””

Denysuik said consolidators charge a number of up-front fees that could put off some potential customers, even though most bills will probably be available online in some form within 10 years.

“”It’s certainly a lot cheaper to experiment with the biller direct model where you’re in control of your Web application than it is to hire a consolidator to try and test the market,”” he said. “”From what we’re seeing in the U.S., the biller direct model is being accepted a lot better.””

Dementavicius wasn’t so sure. “”Biller direct is costly, there’s no two ways about it. It’s far cheaper to go the consolidator route,”” he said. “”For a smaller institution or utility, it could be prohibitive.””

Costs, along with customer service, play a big part in EBPP. Toronto Hydro has said it spends 80 cents to produce a paper-based bill, while an electronic bill costs only 38 cents.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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