Billserv.com, is not waiting for banks and Internet portals to generate consumer interest in receiving and paying bills on-line.
The San Antonio-based company is building a portal where consumers can do that for free.
The nine-month-old company plans to spend millions of dollars promoting its portal, which it expects to have running in three to six months. Besides bill presentment, the portal will offer personal financial management information such as stock quotes, news stories, and links to other electronic commerce sites.
"We really feel consumers need another location where they can view and pay bills," said David Jones, senior vice president. "A lot of the other portals and front ends are moving slowly or are charging customers."
Only a handful of banking companies give retail customers access to their bills on-line.
Bank One Corp. and First Union Corp. have agreements to provide electronic bills from corporations that contracted with Checkfree Holdings Corp. Last week, BankAmerica Corp. announced it is making available an internally developed bill presentment system as a service to its corporate customers.
Billserv.com said it does not want to challenge either Checkfree or major banks with its new Web site, www.bills.com.
"We're trying to stay neutral," said Mr. Jones. "We feel the best solution is to be able to send bills anywhere."
Until it announced the Web site, billserv.com's stated business was helping smaller companies transform their billing data into an Internet- friendly format. It has an agreement to aggregate billing information from smaller companies and send it to Checkfree, and is talking about a similar deal with Transpoint, the joint venture of First Data Corp., Microsoft Corp., and Citigroup.
Its first billing customer is Holmes & Shaw Inc., a mail and print services company in San Antonio.
"Before, we were hitting (the market) from the biller perspective. Now we're hitting it from the consumer perspective," Mr. Jones said.
Avivah Litan, research director at GartnerGroup of Stamford, Conn., questioned whether billserv.com would be able to generate profits without charging users.
Besides the free consumer service, the portal will be free to billers able to send bills compatible with the Open Financial Exchange technical protocol. Mr. Jones said the company may decide to charge a nominal biller transaction fee in the future.
Billserv.com plans to generate revenue through advertising and sponsorships with banks.
"They're going to have their work cut out building enough consumers to get corporate relationships," said Chris Musto, an analyst at Gomez Advisors Inc. in Concord, Mass.
Billserv.com is taking bids from International Business Machines Corp. and a unit of GTE Service Corp. for the development and maintenance of the portal site. Payment processing will be outsourced to an as-yet undetermined company, Mr. Jones said.
The company also said it would negotiate with smaller banks to host bill payment and presentment Web sites with the banks' own brands on them.