Mitek Systems Inc. is debuting a mobile application that allows consumers to pay their bills by photographing them with their smartphones.
The Mobile Photo Bill Pay product is an extension of the San Diego company's remote deposit capture technology that banks offer to consumers to deposit checks through their phones.
"What a consumer really wants to have in their hip, or their wallet, is a remote control to their finances, and the things that are popping up are remote deposit," said Mark Schwanhausser, a senior analyst Javelin Strategy and Research. "I think this one has this kind of wow factor — the idea of taking a snapshot of the bill."
James DeBello, Mitek's chief executive, said in an interview Monday that the software can identify any bills regardless of format, and consumers will be able to pay any merchant.
"Snap a picture of any bill, or invoice, and we convert the image and extract the data for bill pay," he said.
The technology can also be used to enroll new billers with online bill pay, making it easier for consumers to make repeat payments online.
Users will also be able to determine when they want those bills paid, and if they want to pay a partial, or full, amount.
Just as Mitek's check capture technology fought a trend of declining check use, Mobile Photo Bill Pay combats the continuing electronification of consumer bills. Many consumers today have the option of turning off paper bill delivery in favor of receiving statements electronically and having billers take their payments automatically.
DeBello said that many consumers receive paper bills, even if they have the option not to do so. "We understand the future of a paperless society, but we have been hearing that since the 1970s," he said.
Even for those who prefer electronic billing, DeBello said Mitek's technology would be useful for those one-off payments with billers that may not be enrolled already in a consumer's online bill pay, such as a contractor or exterminator. Mitek calls them "ad-hoc" bills.
George Peabody, director of emerging technologies at Mercator Advisory Group, agreed that Mitek's system is most useful for "those bills that you get from service providers, plumbers and installation companies, and folks like that. When you only do business with them once, hopefully this might be a service that would save you time."
However, consumers' willingness to use the service will depend on how banks price it, he said.
"Pricing is going to matter, and [banks] have the double challenge of not only getting consumers to use this service but merchants to use this service as well," Peabody said.
DeBello said it is too early to determine what banks will charge, but their fees would likely be comparable to how banks price other mobile banking services.
Consumers could pay a fee for checks they want paid right away, he said. Merchants could pay for extra security on the payments they receive from the application.
Mitek has already started shopping the technology around to banks and their vendors. DeBello said he expects the company to make announcements about partnerships within the next "quarter, or two."
The application does have obstacles to overcome, however, analysts said. "I think one of them would be trying to make sure it works appropriately, with the picture taking being done," Schwanhausser said. "If it doesn't perform as promised, then it's going to be a kind of dud."
Marketing may also be an issue, as banks have done a very poor job at pitching their mobile wares, he said. "Banks have to get out there and tout it."