E-billing comes down to customer confidence: panel

Canada’s two largest electronic billing companies agree that choosing an e-biller depends greatly on which you have more confidence in — the bank or the post office.

Epost and Webdoxs presented similar views on electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP) during a panel discussion at Comdex Canada Friday, leaving the obvious difference between the two e-billers to be the companies backing them.

Webdoxs is a joint venture between Canada’s seven biggest banks and trust companies, aside from the Bank of Montreal.

The Canada Post Corp., as well as Telus Corp. and Cebra Inc., an e-commerce unit of BMO, back Epost.

“I would say trust is a definite aspect,”said Michael Garrity, vice-president of sales for Epost. “Canadians say they trust the post office.”

Garrity added that Epost does not engage in data mining, and because of its relationship to Canada Post, is compelled by law to respect the privacy of Epost customer activity.

Garrity said bank-backed e-billers in the United States have, in contrast, a history of monitoring customer activity as part of an attempt to sell those customers new services.

David Koa, vice president of sales and marketing for six-month-old Webdoxs, said data mining is not part of the business plan and argued that cross-selling services can actually be a benefit to the customer.

Koa also said Canadians report feeling quite secure banking online, and online bill payment is simply an extension of that process.

“Consumers have told us time and gain that they love doing online banking because they feel comfortable,” Koa said.

(And online banking) customers have told (the banks) they want to pay their bills electronically.

A joint initiative of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, National Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Canada, Scotiabank, TD Financial Group, Laurentian Bank and Mouvement des caisses Desjardins, Webdoxs has defined its market as Canadians banking online, what Koa called “the low-hanging fruit.”

That low-hanging fruit currently composes 18 per cent of the country’s population, or five million people. To date, 235,000 of those are Webdoxs subscribers, Koa said.

“We are not about online mail,” Koa said, drawing an obvious distinction between Webdoxs and the competition. “We are about extending the value of online banking in Canada.”

Epost claims a smaller customer EBPP base of 165,000 (not all Epost activity is EBPP-related). But Garrity insists his company has a larger potential market — the 70 per cent of Canadians with Internet access.

“The only barrier for us is access to the Internet,” he said.

Beyond that, the two e-billers share a common outlook on EBPP. Both Garrity and Koa agreed that EBPP is faring better in Canada than in the United States because of Canada’s smaller number of banks and higher rate of Internet adoption.

They also concurred an aggregate approach to billing, wherein bills from different companies are delivered together, has more merit than the direct approach of companies billing individually.

“It’s very difficult to go to six or seven sites to pay your bills,” Koa said.

As well, Koa and Garrity claimed customers will follow billers to EBPP. Both companies have just less than 20 billers on board.

“We believe the biller has to come first,” Koa said.

“Customers want more billers,” Garrity added. “(They say) ‘Provide content, we’ll use the service.”

Both Garrity and Koa extolled the value of keeping EBPP free to customers, and both claimed to be charging billers about 39 cents per transaction.

“We’re definitely not in the customer-pay model,” Garrity said, adding that Epost has guaranteed the service will remain free to customers, while its competitor has not. “Mail is a right in Canada.

Koa said Webdoxs’s banks have made a commitment not to charge customers, as the customer-pay model is a main reason why EBPP has had lacklustre results south of the border.

Both Koa and Garrity said their customer bases are spread across Canada.

The companies do, however, differ on promotional strategy, if only slightly. While Epost is in the midst of a far-ranging publicity campaign that includes frequent television ads, Koa boasts Webdoxs has not spent a single dollar on marketing — yet. Koa said webdoxs is currently happy to let Epost promote the EBPP concept, but will launch a large publicity campaign of its own over the next 12 to 18 months.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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