Starting this fall, FleetBoston Financial Corp. will provide electronic bill payment and presentment for its consumer and corporate customers, using software from a single vendor.
The two services will enable Fleet's wholesale customers to send bills to consumers and receive payments from them online while Fleet's consumer customers receive bills - from those billers and others - and pay them online.
The idea is to overcome the chicken-and-egg problem that has dogged electronic bill payment and presentment. Consumers do not want to use EBPP until they can do so for all their bills, but billers do not want to invest in electronic delivery until enough consumers have signed on.
"The key is figuring out how to get mass adoption," said Ken Deveaux, senior vice president and business-to-business e-commerce solutions executive at Fleet. The company hopes to use its two million online consumer customers to lure wholesalers into going online and vice versa, he said.
Using a single software provider for both services is a novel approach, said James Van Dyke, a senior analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix. "They are really separate product offerings, separate initiatives, and in this case they are being sold through one vendor and at the same time."
Fleet will install software from edocs Inc. of Natick, Mass. to support both services. Fleet will host the software for most billers, but some big ones may do so for themselves.
Fleet has already announced plans to provide business-to-business electronic billing service. The business-to-consumer services would be marketed to its online banking customers and the largest 50,000 of its 500,000 wholesale customers.
"We are going to start with the large billers, where the economics are a little stronger," Mr. Deveaux said. "Any company that deals with a lot of consumers and has recurring bills is the sweet spot, but we can come up with an economic model that would allow smaller billers to use the services."
Jim Moran, executive vice president of sales and marketing at edocs, said payments will be processed at first through the automated clearinghouse and credit cards. Eventually, Fleet will build a connection that would permit payments to be executed through Spectrum, the bank-owned EBPP consortium.
FleetBoston joined Spectrum in November as an equity investor and user, becoming the first banking company to commit money to the venture since Chase Manhattan Corp., First Union Corp., and Wells Fargo & Co. formed it in October 1999.
"It's great to see momentum from Spectrum companies," said Jupiter Media's Mr. Van Dyke. He added that he believes that late this year the EBPP "spark will turn into fire."
Avivah Litan, a research director at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said, "Any product that plans to offer the service to both the corporate and the retail side will speed up adoption."