CheckFree Corp. has agreed to provide electronic bill-payment services through screen telephones from SmartPhone Communications Inc.
Under terms of the deal, CheckFree can sell products and services of other firms that deliver their offerings through SmartPhone. These offerings include financial reports from Dun & Bradstreet, news from Dow Jones, and electronic mail via the Internet.
Michael Sapienza, vice president of marketing with Columbus, Ohio-based CheckFree, said the deal was driven by CheckFree's desire to gain another channel to acquire customers and deliver its products.
CheckFree currently markets its electronic bill payment service directly to consumers through several PC-based financial management software packages in which its service is embedded. These include Intuit Corp.'s Quicken, Block Financial Corp.'s Managing Your Money, and Simply Money from Computer Associates International Inc.
Through SmartPhone, CheckFree's service will reach a segment of customers who prefer the familiarity and ease of use of the telephone, Mr. Sapienza said.
CheckFree - which allows banks to brand and resell its service - has relationships with 21 financial institutions that offer bill payment through touch-tone phones and PCs. These banks will now have the option to offer screen-phone-based services as well.
Steven Francesco, president and chief operating officer of Stamford, Conn.-based SmartPhone, said CheckFree's service is a "perfect complement" to the company's existing services.
"It will serve as the funds transfer system to complete transactions users require from SmartPhone's other information providers," he said.
SmartPhone bundles information services and gives providers access to one another's offerings. The company also provides marketing services and touch-screen phones from Forval and TeleChips.
SmartPhone's corporate customers retain complete ownership of their own client relationships, said Mr. Francesco. The company decided to work with CheckFree because it was not aligned with any single bank, he said.
"Many people have multiple accounts at different institutions. Screen phone companies that have aligned themselves with one or several banks can't serve the masses."
Since CheckFree provides bill-payment services similar to those offered by SmartPay Processing Inc. of Bellevue, Neb., SmartPhone has ended its relationship with SmartPay.
CheckFree's service - to be available in the next few weeks - will enable customers to authorize single or recurring payments.
For security, CheckFree provides users with personal codes that prevent unauthorized tampering with accounts. All confidential data are entered off-line, and only the payment information is transmitted.
In addition to service providers, SmartPhone works directly with banks.
The company has currently signed on five banks that use their own bill- payment services. These institutions are expected to launch SmartPhone services by the summer or fall. SmartPhone is also working with two other banks that provide bill payment through CheckFree.
SmartPhone will be adding brokerage services and research reports from additional service providers within the next few months, said Mr. Francesco.
He added that all of the services will become available on PCs by the third week of April.
The company has also made an agreement with a personal digital assistant manufacturer, which will market the device as yet another channel for accessing SmartPhone's interactive services, Mr. Francesco said.