Continued revenue and subscriber growth, boosted by a joint electronic bill payment and presentment offering with Bank of America, helped ease the pain of bigger net losses for CheckFree Corp.
Analysts had expected the red ink. Last week the Norcross, Ga., company said it had lost $3.5 million in the March quarter, the third of its fiscal year 64% more than a year earlier. That is 4 cents a share; analysts had predicted 4 cents to 6 cents, according to Thomson Financial/First Call.
Revenues rose 42%, to $113.1 million, just beating the Streets consensus of $113 million.
The number of subscribers grew 9% during the quarter a bit faster than the historic rate of 6% to 8% to about 4.8 million. That rise partly reflects wider availability of electronic billing services, thanks to the rollout of a joint Bank of America-CheckFree offering to customers in 20 states.
The link is expected to spur electronic billing. Bank of America is the catalyst that gets this whole EBPP thing moving, said Daniel R. Perlin, an analyst at Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. in Baltimore.
Last Monday the companies kicked off a two-year, $45 million marketing campaign to advertise the service, which became fully available in February. CheckFree paid Bank of America $25 million in the December quarter to promote electronic billing for one year; Bank of America will pay $20 million the second year.
Bill payment is a good product, but consumers dont know about it and if they do, they dont know where to go to use it, Mr. Perlin said. You need to have a trusted agent with a brand, in this case Bank of America, offering the service through an awareness campaign.
The marketing campaign should bode well for CheckFrees future subscriber growth, and drive earnings and revenue, Mr. Perlin said. He said quarterly subscriber growth could reach 10% in the first half of 2002.
CheckFree signed 23 new billers in the latest quarter, up from 12 the December quarter, bringing the number of companies that have agreed to present bills through its system to 245. Only 12 billers actually started to do so in the quarter, however, making a total of 156.
James Marks, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston in New York, called that slightly disappointing and noted that only 33 new billers have gone live in the three quarters of CheckFrees fiscal year.
CheckFree had planned to move 80 billers into production by June, so the average customer would have been be able to view and pay eight to 10 bills. The revised target is now 50 billers, giving customers six to eight bills, the company said.
Economic conditions are affecting implementations for some billers, which in turn is slowing the speed at which they are moving into production, explained Peter Sinisgalli, CheckFree president and chief operating officer, in a statement.
Bank of America is optimistic that the marketing effort will drive growth, a spokesman said. Weve never done advertising about online banking and online bill payment and presentment before, yet we are adding about 130,000 new customers each month, said Scott Scredon, the spokesman.
The bank has 3.3 million online banking customers, nearly 850,000 of whom make online bill payments. It set a record for online bill payments in March, processing 3.6 million.
Though the marketing campaign will also push online banking, much of the emphasis will be on electronic billing. EBPP has not really been marketed much, Mr. Scredon said. We believe thats the feature that can provide us with a new set of customers.
In one new ad, an attractive woman approaches a handsome man with a laptop in a cafe. The caption reads: Pay bills here often? Another ad shows a raging waterfall and has the caption: That reminds me. Did we pay the water bill?