A start-up company in North Carolina is working on an application that would enable electronic bill payment and presentment providers to use their content - the bills they aggregate on behalf of their customers - in a new way.
The company, Zingbill, of Durham, is developing an auction system that lets subscribers to bill payment/presentment services field competing bids on the products and services for which they are being billed.
Zingbill expects to have five banks, three Internet banking service providers, and 30 billers offering the service on their Web sites by September, when it is slated to go live. It has already signed up Netzee Inc. of Atlanta, an electronic banking service provider with 500 customers, and is to begin a beta test next month.
Besides generating revenue for distributors, Zingbill sees its service advancing adoption of Internet billing.
"This is the first real incentive for consumers to do online bill payment and presentment," said John Teer, chief executive officer and founder.
Billers are to post adjustable price arrangements after receiving records from Zingbill that show how much participating consumers are paying per month for phone service, electricity, and the like.
"The information is anonymous," Mr. Teer said. "We are not interested in whose information it is or any other extraneous stuff; we just care how much they pay for their bills."
Consumers accepting an offer will be taken off the bidding platform for six to 10 months, depending on the customer-acquisition fee the biller pays Zingbill. They will pay a fee for each customer won through an auction.
Zingbill in turn will share part of the fee with the bank or other distributor that wins the account.
Mr. Teer, 27, came up with the idea for Zingbill after living with his brother, who would handle all the household's bills. He realized what a chore that is when his brother moved out.
While he was studying law at the University of North Carolina, Mr. Teer was introduced to officials from Trifolium Inc. of Raleigh, a company that helped build First Union's Internet banking service.
They "liked the idea and believed that this was where the industry is going," and a partnership was born, said Mr. Teer, a former Durham police officer who still works undercover in the narcotics division on weekends. "Two weeks ago I had blue hair and a bunch of earrings for the job. I had to scrub up to go into the office," he said. "Shareholders don't want to see a CEO with blue hair."
Services like Zingbill's are widely expected to crop up. They "make bill payment more attractive because they include elements of comparative shopping" - a key reason consumers use the Internet in the first place, said Paul Jamieson, senior analyst for banking and payments at Gomez Advisors of Lincoln, Mass.
Banks, however, may be loath to offer such services for fear of upsetting billers that are cash management clients, said Brook Newcomb, a senior analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.
"This runs into the issue of, How do you balance competing interests of consumers and billers?" he said. "If I am an existing biller, I am not happy with the bank that is going to allow my competitors to outbid me."