Thursdays launch of Citibank Bill Manager made Citigroup Inc. one of the first banking companies to offer online bill presentment which many consider the missing piece of the electronic billing puzzle to its credit card customers.
Many banks offer programs that let people pay their bills through the Internet, but few banks present bills that way. Usually they mail bills, and customers use the Internet to instruct them on payment. Sometimes the banks pay by check, and sometimes electronically.
In contrast, Citibank Bill Manager offers a totally electronic billing cycle, through Citis Account Online Web site. Customers can look at their accounts, pay their bills, and change their addresses online, said Anthony Jenkins, chief operating officer of Citigroups Internet payment services.
Three million of Citigroups 40 million U.S. cardholders already use the site to review their MasterCard or Visa card account information, and about 850,000 have been using it to pay their credit card bills.
It was only logical that those consumers who are used to going to the site to look at their credit card information would like to look at other bills and pay those bills as well, Mr. Jenkins said.
Citigroup is working with Paytrust Inc., a Lawrenceville, N.J., online bill aggregation company in which it is an investor. We took the decision to look for the bill [presentment] function and to integrate it with the Account Online experience, he said.
The bill presentment service has been tested at the Account Online site for the past few weeks, Mr. Jenkins said. For now it is being offered only to Account Online customers, but it will be made available to other customers within the three to six months, he said.
Customers can use Citibank Bill Manager to receive e-mail notifications of incoming bills, review their bill information and history, arrange for payments from any of their check-writing accounts, and schedule automatic payments of certain bills. A data feature allows them to download information from the Web site to their personal financial management software.
Customers tell Citigroup which bills to pay through the service. Paytrust then receives the bills electronically or asks the billers to send them to one of its biller distribution centers they are in Lawrenceville and in Sioux Falls, S.D. where the bills are scanned into Paytrusts database.
Citigroup is offering free three-month trials of the service. After that, subscribers will pay $8.95 a month. Mr. Jenkins predicted that many thousands of customers will enroll.
Edward G. McLaughlin, chief executive officer of Paytrust, said Citigroup is the first major bank to use the companys services. Other Paytrust customers include American Express Co., GE Financial Network, NextCard Inc., E-Trade Group, Yodlee Inc., and OnMoney.com, a subsidiary of Ameritrade Holdings Co.
This is significant, because a top-three bank is extending payment-only services to bill management, Mr. McLaughlin said. Citibank is the first to offer complete bill presentment. No one wants to play find-my-bill on the Web. Were providing the ability to get all bills online.
Paul Jamieson, senior analyst of banking and payments at Gomez Advisors Inc., said the service is an important development, because anytime Citibank ups the ante, people sit up and take notice.
With this service, the banking company is now raising the bar, Mr. Jamieson said. All this captured information can work to the advantage of the consumer.
Beth Robertson, e-banking senior analyst at Tower Group, called Citigroups arrangement with Paytrust a good step forward for Paytrusts wider market distribution and endorsement of its service model.
By working with Paytrust, Citibank can rapidly offer the service to a wide network of customers without having to develop it internally, she said.