Providers of the systems that will let consumers receive and pay bills through the Internet are reporting an enthusiastic response from corporations and utilities.
"I predict within 12 months every major biller will be in involved" in some type of electronic billing system, said Peter Kight, chief executive officer of Checkfree Corp., the Atlanta-based bill payment processor.
Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp., who like Mr. Kight spoke at the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery '97 conference last week, said signing up billers for the electronic services has been easier than anticipated. He added that the billers have demonstrated a willingness to pay for the benefits of such services.
By contrast, banks seem more cautious, speakers at the conference said.
Charles White, president of electronic commerce at MSFDC, the bill processing joint venture of Microsoft Corp. and First Data Corp., said many banks have entered an "analysis-paralysis mode" and are expressing "reluctance about entering into this space" because of "concerns about how this plays out across the whole bank."
Others said many banks still are formulating strategies on how to incorporate electronic billing into their Web banking systems.
"We've seen instances where the retail side is ready to move, because the consumers want it and they see what the technology companies are doing, but on the wholesale side they think they have more time," said Mr. Kight.
"I think it's very important for a bank to quickly put together a strategy," he said.
Mr. Kight joined executives from MSFDC and Cybercash Inc. in touting the opportunities for banks to become "trusted intermediaries" for the transmission of billing information and processing of the resulting payments.
One current obstacle is potential incompatibility between the system offered by Checkfree and the one to be offered soon by MSFDC. But Mr. White and Mr. Kight pledged that the two organizations would work together to let bills and payments pass between their respective services.
Bruce Wilson, senior vice president of Reston, Va.-based Cybercash, noted that the Checkfree and MSFDC systems are "concentration services" that may fit well with retail banks' Internet strategies, but they are not necessarily what billers want.
Instead of presenting bills through bank Internet services, some billers would prefer to post bills on their own Web sites. Such a scenario lets the biller market and cross-sell more effectively.
"We believe the biller-direct model is what will ultimately succeed," Mr. Wilson said.
But all parties agreed that Internet billing and banking is primed to take off. The Internet soon will "become a channel more important to (financial institutions) than brick-and-mortar branches," said Mr. Kight.
This article previously appeared in American Banker's Web edition.