The next generation of online bill payment applications are going to look a lot like online calendars.
Technology providers are developing or have rolled out tools that use calendars to schedule and view upcoming payments, show consumers their net account balances (including pending payments), and offer faster transactions.
Several companies, including Fiserv Inc., Yodlee Inc., Intuit Inc., and its Digital Insight, showed off their efforts Tuesday at the Finovate 2008 conference hosted by Online Financial Innovations, the privately held publisher of the newsletter Online Banking Report and the NetBanker blog.
Steve Shaw, the director of strategic marketing for Fiserv's electronic banking services unit, said the Brookfield, Wis., vendor plans to introduce the hosted version of its CheckFree Online Advantage application this year aimed mainly at its smaller core-banking customers.
The technology will also be available by mid-2009 as licensed software for larger banks, Mr. Shaw said in an interview following his presentation.
"It's taken a while to put together the combination of what Corillian and CheckFree could be." (CheckFree Corp., the leading provider of electronic bill payment and presentment services, bought Corillian Corp. in May of last year, seven months before Fiserv bought CheckFree.)
During a demonstration, Mr. Shaw showed how CheckFree Online Advantage could switch from a conventional list view of upcoming payments to a calendar view.
Other elements of the Web page incorporate monthly budgeting and personal financial management tools, fund transfers between accounts, bill payment using credit cards for customers who want to earn rewards, expedited payments for a fee, and remote capture of consumer checks.
"That's how we think CheckFree redefines the online banking experience today," he said.
During the conference, Yodlee demonstrated a bill payment application that includes a calendar view and a projected balance feature that calculates how much will be available after pending bills are paid.
Peter Hazlehurst, the Redwood City, Calif., company's senior vice president of products, also demonstrated "Yodlee Pay Today," a payment service offered through a partnership with Western Union Co.
Starting at Yodlee's bill payment page, he was able to execute a small payment and received a confirmation almost immediately that the transaction had been completed.
Mr. Hazlehurst said that he expects banks to offer the service for a fee, and that the software driving the service is currently available for developers.
Steven Kramer, Western Union's vice president of electronic payments, said in an interview Wednesday that his Denver company has built direct connections to 6,000 billers over the last dozen years, primarily to power their biller direct Web sites, as well as to call centers and interactive voice response systems.
These relationships enable Western Union to send payments to the billers and provide immediate confirmation to the senders, he said.
It envisions other financial companies using its network to offer nearly instantaneous payments, Mr. Kramer said, and banks will likely charge users a fee for the faster service.
Though the bill-pay system cannot reach all billers, it can direct payments to many of the most significant ones, Mr. Kramer said. "We don't have a pay-everybody service. We have a pay-your-top-billers service."
At the conference Tuesday, Intuit showed off planned changes for its Quicken Online service. Todd Stanley, a vice president at Intuit and the general manager of its Quicken unit, said the Mountain View, Calif., company expects to introduce several new features Oct. 30, including a calendar that shows upcoming bills and can show how they correlate with users' anticipated income, in a one-paycheck or two-paycheck view.
About 70% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, Mr. Stanley said, and Intuit sees its online service as a way to recapture business that has moved away from Quicken's packaged software to services such as online banking.
In another bid to attract customers, he said that Intuit had eliminated its monthly fee for using Quicken Online this week; it had previously charged users $3 a month.
Digital Insight, an online banking outsourcer, previewed Small Business FinanceWorks, a companion application to a consumer financial management service it introduced last month for financial companies that use its online banking service. The companion tool is scheduled for release next month.
Karen Van Kirk, Digital Insight's director of small-business solutions, said Small Business FinanceWorks, which has basic invoice production and calendar features, is designed for small business customers that are not yet ready to use Intuit's flagship QuickBooks application.
"I don't need all that accounting. I just need some help getting organized," she said.
Edward Woods, a senior analyst at Celent, a Boston financial research arm of Marsh & McLennan Cos., said bankers have been slow to offer the kind of flexible, data-management offerings that many consumers have become accustomed to finding at sites such as Amazon.com or the financial community sites Mint and Wesabe.
"You come to expect those kinds of things," he said, and the new features are likely to be especially important to the young consumers.
"That's part of the way they communicate," he said.
Though nonbanks have led the way in offering new services to consumers, Mr. Woods said he expected many of these efforts, if not most, to fail, which would give bankers an opportunity to reclaim those customers.
"The market can only support so many of them," he said.