You've got bills.
America Online Inc. turned the pressure up a notch Tuesday on banks that are striving to bring electronic bill payment and presentment services to market.
The nation's largest Internet portal said it would let the millions of people who use its services receive and pay their bills on-line. The timing of the offering - early 2000 - puts it on the same schedule as Spectrum, the high-profile bill presentment venture of Chase Manhattan Corp., First Union Corp., and Wells Fargo & Co. Bank of America Corp., which plans to launch its own electronic presentment service early next year.
AOL will offer Intuit Inc.'s bill presentment and payment service, which was made available on the company's Quicken.com financial Web site last week. The agreement extends an existing relationship between the two companies, under which Intuit had been the primary source of content for AOL's personal finance channel on aol.com
AOL's announcement, the first of its kind from a major portal, "is not good news for banks," said Avivah Litan, research director at GartnerGroup, Stamford, Conn. "This is definitely a threat to them, and it will heat up their efforts to get out there."
She added that AOL and other portals will be "driving the destiny here to a large degree," because they enjoy such large consumer audiences.
Banks have identified electronic bill presentment, or delivery, as a cash management service that would help them maintain relationships with their corporate customers as well as generate visits from retail customers who would go to the banks' Web sites to get their bills. Portals have loomed large as potential threats to banks' ability to become the primary providers of this service.
The more than 30 million monthly visitors to the aol.com Web site, the more than 19 million subscribers to AOL's Internet service, and the more than 2 million subscribers to Compuserve, which AOL acquired, will have access to the billing service.
Counting all of its Web properties, AOL has significantly more reach than other Internet portals, according to the New York Internet research firm Media Metrix. The second-largest, Yahoo Inc., has 40 million monthly visitors. Microsoft Corp.'s set of sites gets 37 million visitors monthly.
Yahoo in September began offering electronic bill payment through Checkfree Holdings Corp., but has not yet revealed its plans for presenting bills. Microsoft recently began offering bill presentment and payment through its MoneyCentral financial portal. It offers bills only from companies signed on with Transpoint LLC, a joint venture in which the software giant is a partner.
Intuit's service presents bills from corporations that have signed up to deliver them through Checkfree.
Intuit plans to take steps that would ensure consumers receive all their bills electronically. It will align with other electronic consolidators and publishers - including Derivion Corp. and Pitney Bowes Inc. - to ensure a broader array of electronic bills are available.
Early next year Intuit also will begin using technology from Cyberbills Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., to receive consumers' paper bills and convert them to digital images. The service ensures consumers they will receive electronic bills, even from companies that choose to send them out via paper.
"Intuit has a much more comprehensive service than what Yahoo's got," Ms. Litan said. "Intuit has pay-anyone, scanned bills, and electronic bills." That capability makes AOL's planned service a potentially larger threat than that of Yahoo, she added.
An AOL spokesman said, "We didn't see any service as comprehensive as this one." Other providers rely on billing companies to get electronic bills, he said. But Intuit's use of Cyberbills' scanning technology makes all bills available, he said.
AOL signed a five-year agreement for Intuit to provide the service. AOL did not disclose its terms, nor how much it will charge consumers for the service, the spokesman said.
One positive aspect of the AOL announcement for banks is that the portal's high visibility places it in a prime position to spur consumer adoption of electronic bill presentment and payment.
"One of the biggest issues is that people just don't know about it," said Paul Hughes, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group, a Boston-based technology research and consulting firm. "From the standpoint of helping to increase consumers' awareness of the capabilities out there, this is a great way to do it, considering that AOL has the largest subscriber base out there."