BankAmerica Corp. is relying on the depth of its customer base and internal processing capabilities to embolden its electronic bill payment and presentment strategy.
The banking company announc-ed an offering Wednesday that aims to let its two million corporate customers deliver bills via the Internet to Bank of America's 30 million retail customers. It builds on a system already in place that processes two million payments a month.
Bank of America is unusual in its reliance on internal capabilities, rather than on external processors such as Checkfree Holdings Corp., in the quickly evolving electronic billing market.
By contrast, Bank One Corp. announced Wednesday it would work with Checkfree to deliver electronic bills to its customers. It follows First Union Corp. in doing so.
Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank America is not the only one turning inward in an attempt to retain as much control as possible over corporate billing relationships. Chase Manhattan Corp. has been running a pilot of an internally developed comprehensive bill pay and presentment system with its credit card customers.
Bank of America officials said they are now ready to roll out their service, which has been in the testing phase with employees, also in the credit card area, since March. "Now that we have gone through one full billing cycle, we feel very confident about the underlying technology as well as the acceptance," said Jane Wallace, senior vice president of BankAmerica.
Chris Callero, group executive vice president, said he expects the service "to be one of the most highly demanded products to emerge from the e-commerce revolution."
It will be marketed as a component of BankAmerica's cash management service, which is used by two out of three large U.S. companies and 80% of the Fortune 1000 companies.
"Banks have a tremendous edge" given the strong relationships they have with corporate cash management departments, said Avivah Litan, research director at GartnerGroup, Stamford, Conn.
Ms. Wallace said the bank will stress that payments can be delivered to billers through existing accounts/receivable systems.
And given Bank of America's large share of the corporate and consumer markets, many transactions will "stay within the four walls of the bank, so we do not need to go to an outside network," Ms. Wallace said.
Those "'on-us' transactions can be applied to the biller's account on a same-day basis," she said. "That is pretty awesome."
One million retail customers use BankAmerica's Internet-based banking and personal financial management software, and the company predicted the number would grow 75% by this time next year.
In its bill-payment operation, which handles payments in California, Bank of America delivers 66% of transactions electronically, compared to an industry average of just 41%.
Bill presentment "is a logical extension of the bill-payment service," Ms. Wallace said.
Ms. Litan said the bank would have to rely on its influence with corporate treasurers. The leaders in corporate Internet billing programs are often electronic commerce technologists or marketers, who may not be familiar with banks' technology-based services and fail to view banks as potential service providers, she said.
BankAmerica is negotiating with undisclosed bill distribution providers to help it round out the service to customers of other banks.
Ms. Litan said the bill payment and presentment initiative is coming from the old BankAmerica operations in San Francisco. She noted that merger partner NationsBank Corp. had been committed to Integrion Financial Network, the home banking consortium that revolved around International Business Machines Corp. technology.
BankAmerica, a major owner of the recently restructured Integrion, said it would still use Integrion, which relies on Checkfree as a "preferred provider" of electronic billing, when and where appropriate.