The nominal volume of electronic bill payments could soon get a boost from several developing bill presentment services.

Checkfree Corp., Visa Interactive, and National Processing Co. are in various stages of developing services to deliver electronic versions of monthly consumer bills over the Internet.

Such initiatives could have a dual benefit for banks.

First, they could convince consumers of the benefits of electronic financial services, and possibly lead to use of other electronic banking services.

"Consumers aren't interested in paying bills electronically until they get the thing presented to them electronically," said Robert Evans, product manager for Questpoint, a unit of CoreStates Financial Corp.

Second, they could give banks the opportunity to strengthen their ties to corporate customers that want help handling electronic bill payments.

As part of their Internet initiatives, Checkfree, Visa Interactive, and NPC are building back-office systems that tie electronic invoice data to electronic payment initiation, thereby streamlining the bill collection process.

Company officials disclosed their plans at a recent payment seminar sponsored by White Papers Inc., Montclair, N.J.

Despite a growing number of home banking services on the market, less than 1% of all bill payments are initiated electronically, according to Philip Bruno, payments specialist at McKinsey & Co., New York.

Mr. Bruno said roughly 137 million payments are made annually via personal computers, while another 245 million transactions are initiated through telephone bill payment services.

However, Mr. Bruno predicts annual transaction volume for telephone and PC-based bill payments will be 1.5 billion by 2000. The number will be spurred by initiatives such as Checkfree's, Visa's, and NPC's.

One potential stumbling block for Internet-based bill presentment is consumer resistance to having to visit multiple Web sites to retrieve their bills.

George White, president of White Papers Inc., suggested that banks, vendors, and corporate billers work toward consolidated billing practices, which would let consumers get their bills from a single location.

"I think combining bills still has a lot of promise," Mr. White said, while noting that many billers resist consolidated billing out of fear of losing contact with their customers.

Despite this hurdle, Checkfree and Visa Interactive officials said they were pleased with research and tests they have done in this area.

For example, Checkfree, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, recently concluded a six-month pilot electronic bill presentment program with Southwestern Bell Telephone, Capstead Mortgage Inc., and General Public Utilities, a regional electric company serving New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Based on its experience with this pilot, Checkfree plans to gradually unveil a presentment service early in 1997. A general rollout will follow later in the year.

Mark A. Johnson, president of Checkfree's business services division, said the new service will feature many graphics and will include electronic statement stuffers and other marketing material.

"E-Bill is a product that will be aggressively received by the marketplace," he said. "Clearly, the consumer-base is ready."

Visa Interactive's offering is expected to follow close on the heels of Checkfree's.

The service, which is expected to be in full production in 1998, will be marketed directly to banks, according to Joseph J. Curcio, a sales executive at Visa.

Banks will send and receive invoices and remittances on behalf of corporate clients and be able to link electronic bill payments and associated transaction details with their home banking services, Mr. Curcio said.

Consumers would obtain images of their invoices from the Internet and pay bills via an on-line debit authorization using Visa's Epay service.

National Processing Co. officials also expect to unveil a invoice presentment service next year, according to John M. Buck, vice president at the Louisville, Ky.-based remittance and credit card processor.

National Processing recently developed Virtual Pay, an Internet-based bill payment service for Mobil Corp.'s three million credit card customers.

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