An Atlanta thrift company has bought majority ownership of an Internet billing venture of which it is so far the only customer.
Eagle Bancshares, which has $1.2 billion of assets, declined to disclose the terms under which it took control of Nextbill.com last week. Eagle owns Tucker Federal Bank, Nextbill's sole customer.
Rick Inman, chief executive officer of Tucker Federal and now of Nextbill too, said no billers have yet signed up for the service.
Eagle was worried about being left behind in the fast-moving world of electronic bill payment and presentation, Mr. Inman said. Banks will lose check-processing revenue to electronic rivals such as CheckFree Holdings Corp. and Nextbill, he said.
Nextbill works differently than CheckFree.
CheckFree acts as a bill aggregator; companies send it bills and CheckFree notifies the consumer, who then goes to CheckFree's Web site to schedule payment. CheckFree charges billers from 32 cents to 50 cents per transaction.
Nextbill, by contrast, lets companies e-bill consumers directly, using software that the billing company licenses from Nextbill. For example, a utility company would send an e-mail to a consumer listing current charges, as well as providing a 12-month history of bills and payments. The consumer would then click on a link to the utility company's Web site and schedule payment. The payment would be handled by the Federal Reserve's Automated Clearing House, drawing the money from a predesignated bank account.
Nextbill's income would come from licensing the software to the billers and charging them a fee of roughly 25 cents for each transaction, Mr. Inman said. The fee will be on a sliding scale, so big billers would pay less per transaction than smaller ones.
"Considering the cost of mailing and processing a bill is between 60 cents and 90 cents, this is a very inexpensive alternative," Mr. Inman said. "Cost savings industrywide could be in the billions of dollars."
But John B. Moore, a bank analyst with Wachovia Securities in Charlotte, N.C., was not impressed. Such services are not worthwhile to consumers unless they can pay all their bills online, he said. For Nextbill and similar companies, that means signing up not just giant utility companies and banks, but also small retailers and vendors, he said.
"Of all the checks you write, only a small number go to big vendors," Mr. Moore said. "Quite frankly, I don't see anyone who has completely worked it out."