CheckFree builds sales force to take on Canadian market

While Epost and E-route wage a battle for the electronic bill payment market in Canada, U.S.-based CheckFree believes it can provide billers a better way to deliver information to their customers.

The software company has hired an all-Canadian sales and marketing team to go after the billing business this side of the border, and will continue to develop its software in Waterloo, Ontario.
“We have half a dozen sales people dedicated to CheckFree in Canada,” said Curtis Croft, senior vice-president of the Atlanta GA-based CheckFree I-Solutions Corp.

First founded 20 years ago, CheckFree first began developing an e-bill in 1995.Today 4.8 million consumers, mostly in the U.S., pay bills from CheckFree-powered sites.

In the U.S. CheckFree enables consumers to pay all their bills online, including the babysitter, while in Canada the company is selling its software to billers, allowing them to link up to E-route or Epost. The software allows consumers and business to view their whole bill online, not just the amount they owe. Customers can even dispute charges online without having to make a call to the company.

Last year, the company bought Waterloo Ont.-based BlueGill Technologies, created by CheckFree I-Solutions CTO Ray Simonson six years ago. His idea was to develop software for electronic billing and payment over the Internet. Simonson now heads up the research and development team for CheckFree i-Solutions, and is still based in Waterloo. More than 200 people are employed by the company’s facility in that city.

“Until CheckFree acquired BlueGill we were a very U.S.-centric organization. Only in the last nine months have we become a player globally,” said Croft. “The software will continue to be developed at BlueGill and that team of sales people will have input into future development.”

CheckFree markets its software primarily through the reseller channel in Canada, working closely with its partners Xerox and IBM.

“IBM is sending most of its U.S. and Canadian statements and invoices using our software,” says Simonson. “In fact IBM is telling its suppliers if they can’t receive their bills electronically it won’t do business with them.”

Right now the company’s clients include Hydro Quebec (B2B only), B.C. Hydro and Chevron’s credit card division. The company’s software is also being used by financial institutions such as Trimark Investments for brokerage statements provided through Moore Corporation.

The company is hoping its latest XML-based version of its i-Series software released last week will attract more business to business as well as business to consumer customers to the product.

“It offers more business analysis features for large, complex bills and statements. It’s a complex release, but it also has a more focused approach with vertical-specific modules for the insurance industry, telcos, utilities and financial services,” said Croft.

Simonson says the new 4.0 version with XML will provide detail users are looking for, such as the ability to organize calls on a phone bill or link back to a company to lodge a complaint. The new release can also link into Cognos OLAP engine (Online Analytical Processing), enabling a user to glimpse at billing data across a cost centre, for example.

“We make the bills come alive. Eroute and Epost don’t offer those services,” said Simonson.

The price of CheckFree software is based on a license fee and depends on usage and the size of the company.

Croft points out that the cost to print and process a paper bill is about $2 while the cost is 40 cents to post online.

The other advantage is eliminating the need for storage and processing of paper bills. The company is working with a telco in Taiwan that processes 20 million bills per month.

While only a small percentage of the population has embraced online bill payment, Croft says the company’s adoption growth rate in the U.S. had been holding at six per cent and rose to nine per cent last quarter.

“So we’re gaining momentum. I think a lot of early projections were overly optimistic as to how fast things were going to happen,” he said, adding if 30 to 40 per cent of the population eventually moves to online bill payment “it will be extremely successful.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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