Princeton eCom Corp. said it has landed a three-year contract with Bell Atlantic Mobile to distribute telephone bills and collect payments on-line.
Terms were not disclosed. Bell Atlantic Mobile, a Bedminster, N.J.-based subsidiary of Bell Atlantic Corp., claims to own and operate the largest wireless network in the East. It has 6.6 million customers.
Princeton eCom is a New Jersey company that publishes electronic bills and collects payments through its electronic lockbox for seven billing institutions, including Adelphia Cable of Coudersport, Pa., Boston Gas Co., and a new, undisclosed customer that Princeton eCom officials say is four times as large as Bell Atlantic.
After customers initiate payments over the telephone or personal computer, Princeton eCom originates electronic transactions that debit the customers' bank accounts and credit those of the billers. Princeton.com also sends the transaction detail directly to the billers' accounts receivables systems.
Princeton eCom competes with larger and better known providers of electronic bill presentment such as industry leader Checkfree Corp. and Transpoint, a two-year-old venture owned by Microsoft Corp., First Data Corp., and Citigroup.
Princeton eCom chief executive officer Don Licciardello said Bell Atlantic Mobile has "bought into" the concept that his approach to bill publishing is the best way to maximize the delivery of bills to customers and subscribers.
He said distribution of bills through any service provider or third party, what he calls "agnostic distribution of content," is what ultimately will spur electronic bill payment and presentment. Furthermore, for Internet bill presentment to succeed, he said, billers need to reach all banks, not just those that have relationships with Checkfree or Transpoint or outsource processors such as Fiserv Inc and M&I Data Services.
"It does not make sense for a company that houses debt to disclose it through a single presentment entity," he said.
He said that Princeton eCom has agreements with several third-party aggregators, including Transpoint, and that if a third party refuses to accept and distribute bills to banks and their customers, Mr. Licciardello's company can rely on the Open Financial Exchange, or OFX, standard for such a connection.
Steven Greenwood, senior vice president of Princeton eCom, singled out Checkfree as one important distribution network that has ignored Princeton eCom's overtures. Princeton eCom would work with and compensate Checkfree for its services, but Mr. Greenwood said the Atlanta company perceives a threat.
Checkfree eventually will present bills generated by competitors, Mr. Greenwood predicted, but not until there is enough pressure from Checkfree's bank and biller customers.
"I would say it is a disservice to both the biller and the financial institution if there is ever a place where a consumer chooses to pay their bills and they can't receive them there," Mr. Greenwood said.
Matt Lewis, executive vice president at Checkfree, said his company "takes its cues from billers" who control the way bills get distributed. If billers want his company to work with a third party, then Checkfree will do so, he said.
"With Princeton eCom, we haven't encountered a billing arrangement yet that necessitated that arrangement, but I do not see any reason that -- as electronic billing and payment continue to grow -- the opportunity might not present itself," Mr. Lewis said.