Bill.com has gained traction in recent years with a few large banks that market its electronic bill payment service for businesses, but reaching a wider audience has been tough because small businesses are a tough nut for banks to crack.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor recently decided to rethink its approach. Instead of burying Bill.com within banks' deeper menu of business services, what if it angled its service around a habit familiar to business owners — using a consumer-like online banking portal?

The result is Bill.com Connect, the company's new platform announced today enabling businesses to directly access bill payment and cash flow management through a bank's online banking portal or mobile app.

Adaptable for any size of enterprise, Bill.com Connect is particularly suited for small and midsize businesses, most of which still pay the majority of their bills by check and represent a big opportunity for banks looking to expand products and services for this group, said René Lacerte, Bill.com's CEO and founder.

"Small and midsize businesses are a huge market and most of these people are still paying the majority of their bills with checks and a filing cabinet," Lacerte said. "They want an easier way to do it, and we're delivering it through the online banking portal, which is a familiar tool to everyone."

Bill.com Connect handles businesses' payables and receivables, converting checks to ACH payments. The service also supports invoices and enables different users to approve payments. The new version, like the previous one, synchronizes with QuickBooks, NetSuite, Intacct and other accounting systems.

Along with switching the interface to the online banking portal, the main thrust for Bill.com Connect's redesign is to minimize the learning curve for businesses by offering two tiers: a basic, stripped-down version businesses can try out for free immediately, and an advanced version with a richer set of features, Lacerte said.

The subscription-based pricing model enables banks to price the basic service at a very low cost or free, giving business users the opportunity to upgrade to the higher-priced, more advanced model whenever they want, Lacerte said.

Thousands of businesses already are using Bill.com, and for those that adopted it, their ratio of check usage to ACH flipped from an average of 95% of bill payments by check and 5% ACH to about 70% ACH, he said.

Since Bill.com launched its services in 2008, Bank of America and PNC have adopted its older version, along with a few other large banks that decline to be named, according to Bill.com. BofA and Silicon Valley Bank are among its investors.

While businesses may go directly to Bill.com to get the service — which some accounting firms also market to their clients — banks are the company's prime delivery channel.

"By making the bank the go-to destination for the end-to-end payment process, Bill.com Connect has the potential to redefine the relationships banks have with their small-business customers," said Matt White, senior vice president of Small Business Banking at Commerce Bank.

Banks may want to take on more of their customers' payments business, but there is heavy competition in the niche.

FIS offers a broad range of treasury and cash management services that banks can offer in conjunction with small-business services through customizable modules. Fiserv markets a white-label ACH payments service and Bill Advantage, its digital billing presentment and payment service offered through online and mobile channels. Many independent software providers also offer solutions banks and corporation use, often in combination.

Analysts note there is opportunity for banks to capture more payments volume from small and midsize businesses, and Bill.com's strategy could help drive that.

But potential users have many choices, said Steve Murphy, director of commercial and enterprise payments at Mercator Advisory Group.

"Growing networks of cloud-based procure-to-pay solutions have captive suppliers and integrated features including e-invoicing, payables, and supply chain financing, to name a few," Murphy said.

Bill.com also might not be a fit for all banks, said Patricia Hewitt, CEO of PG Research & Advisory Services.

"There's no question an opportunity exists for banks to convert small business payments from paper to electronic," Hewitt said. "But Bill.com will have to ensure that their vertical capabilities align with a bank's horizontal product and service strategies for small business, and to do that within a downstream institution environment."