Bank One Corp. on Wednesday became the second major bank to make electronic bills available to its on-line customer base.
It followed First Union Corp. by about six months in rolling out the bill presentment offering of Checkfree Corp.
But the race is getting tighter as banks try to turn this much- anticipated opportunity for payment services into reality. Also Wednesday, BankAmerica Corp. officially introduced what it called "comprehensive electronic bill presentment and payment solutions" that could reach all 32 million of its business and consumer customers.
The system was developed internally and has been tested with employees since late March. Competing against other vendors, BankAmerica wants to be seen as "a comprehensive alternative to the limited number of other bill presentment options" on the market, said senior vice president Jane Wallace.
Bank One's more full-scale introduction was in keeping with its plan to popularize on-line services by continually adding enhancements. Three months ago it unveiled the "50/50" on-line home equity application, which lets consumers in 50 states apply for home equity loans electronically and receive answers in no more than 50 seconds.
"Our highest priority is moving to market fast," said Bruce A. Luecke, president of interactive delivery services in Bank One's retail group. "If you're playing on the Internet, you'd better be fast."
Bank One's 310,000 on-line customers can elect to receive bills over the Internet from some of the corporations signed up to send Checkfree's E- bills. The bank eventually may add some of its own corporate clients, Mr. Luecke said in an interview during a Bank Administration Institute conference on Internet banking this week in Atlanta.
Bank One is hoping that on-line presentments will encourage more of its customers to pay that way. Currently, 20% to 25% of its on-line banking customers use the bill payment offering.
Bank One's financial arrangement with Checkfree, which it uses to execute most of its bill payments, remained unchanged with the addition of presentment services, Mr. Luecke said. Bank One is not charging its customers beyond the $4.95 they already pay for bill payment. Basic on-line banking is free.
The Chicago-based banking company is the first to use the Checkfree service through the Integrion Financial Network. That consortium, which recently streamlined its ownership structure, is now controlled by Bank One, BankAmerica Corp., and Washington Mutual Inc., with several other institutions participating.
Checkfree is Integrion's "preferred provider" of electronic bill payment and presentment.
Bank One does not plan to work exclusively with Checkfree, Mr. Luecke emphasized. "We want to be able to present as many bills as we can."
Forty-three corporations have signed contracts to have Checkfree deliver their electronic bills. So far, only a handful, including MCI Worldcom and BellSouth, are actually sending such bills, according to a Checkfree spokeswoman.
Fifteen of the 43 have agreed to deliver their bills to Bank One. Seven are listed on its Web site: American Electric Power, BellSouth, Boston Edison, Columbia Gas of Ohio, Consumers Energy, HomeSide Lending, and MCI WorldCom.
"I don't believe by working with a single presentment provider that any bank will be as successful as it can be," Mr. Luecke said. "You have to be as open as possible."
He said he would like to see more providers enter the market. Bank One has completed the first phase of a pilot with Transpoint, the other main presentment service provider, but a second phase has not been scheduled, Mr. Luecke said.
In mid-May the $260 billion-asset bank will roll out a revamped Internet offering that will combine the multiple sites it supports because of its acquisition of First Chicago NBD Corp.
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The conversion will bring Internet banking to the bank's Michigan customers, who previously did not have it, and will add bill payment and presentment to the former First Chicago program.
Bank One added 50,000 users of Quicken and Money personal financial management software, and about 60,000 Internet banking users, with its purchase of First Chicago NBD. It is adding 16,000 to 17,000 new on-line banking customers a month, and expects that rate to increase as it rolls out the new site.
By 2002, Bank One hopes to have 15% of its customer base banking on- line, up from just under 4% today. Its goal for yearend 1999 is 400,000 customers.
That growth is a "major reason" Bank One decided to sign up with Integrion in August 1996. "We knew the Integrion platform could accommodate the growth we expected," Mr. Luecke said.
Bank One is counting on a marketing arrangement with the Internet gateway Excite Inc. to boost its growth. It is paying Excite a fee for every account opened by a customer who comes to the bank through that portal, which has 17 million monthly users. In addition, the two companies are building a cobranded financial site.
"Bank One has been proactive in learning by doing," said Christopher Musto, an analyst at Gomez Advisers in Concord, Mass. "They're securing options for the future, which is necessary as the Internet becomes less of a level playing field."
The bank's aggressive posture is evident in the fact that it brought the 50/50 home equity service to market in only six weeks. The first day, more applications came in than what the bank typically attracted on-line in a month.
Mr. Luecke credits a "very focused" interactive delivery services group. Forty-two people work directly for Mr. Luecke, while another 40 to 50 technology-oriented employees, who are dedicated to interactive services, report to both him and the chief information officer of the retail bank.
Ninety percent were hired from Internet companies. "They're used to working fast," Mr. Luecke said. Also, "they think about things differently, particularly in terms of what motivates people on the Internet and keeping costs down," he said.
A process management group within the interactive delivery services division has whittled troublesome Internet transactions-those that result in a call to the bank-down to only 1.3% of the total. "The goal is to eliminate phone calls," Mr. Luecke said.
Another group in the division is dedicated to identifying, revamping, and improving bank products for distribution over the Internet. A marketing group ensures that campaigns occur at "Internet speed," while another group ensures that customer experiences are consistent across the Web site.