Transpoint LLC this week began offering consumers the ability to pay any bill through the Internet - even to parties unable to receive payments electronically.

By making a "pay-anyone" service available, the joint venture of Microsoft Corp., First Data Corp., and Citigroup Inc. bolstered itself against rival CheckFree Holdings Corp. of Norcross, Ga., which has had the capability since the mid-1980s.

Englewood, Colo.-based Transpoint also met its target of launching the service by early February. Such punctuality has not always been a hallmark of the venture. Established in June 1997, Transpoint began offering bill presentment last May - more than a year behind schedule.

The pay-anyone capability is considered a premium service and thus commands a higher price than Transpoint's standard service. For $5.95 a month, premium users can make up to 20 payments a month to anyone - including, for example, relatives and baby-sitters.

Those opting for standard service, which costs $2.95 a month, can also make up to 20 payments each month, but only to the 750 companies with electronic payment connections to Transpoint.

To spur adoption, Transpoint is offering free three-month and six-month trials of the premium and standard services, respectively.

"The consumer uptake of payment services on the Internet is going to take a big jump with our launch," said Lewis Levin, president and chief executive officer of Transpoint, in a news release.

Transpoint, which had received complaints from financial institutions about its lack of pay-anyone capability, developed the feature in-house, said Susan Weeber, group product manager at the company. Though Transpoint jointly markets the pay-anyone service of Milwaukee-based M&I Data Services, M&I was not involved in the development of Transpoint's system, Ms. Weeber said.

Mr. Levin has said in the past that his company would also rely on Citigroup's processing capabilities to make payments to some companies. Ms. Weeber declined to elaborate on Transpoint's relationship with the banking company.

More billers may choose Transpoint as a bill consolidator if the new service draws more customers to its bill distribution sites. Its fortunes in bill consolidation have already begun to improve, said Avivah Litan, financial services research director at GartnerGroup of Stamford, Conn. In late 1998, just 10% of billers surveyed by GartnerGroup named Transpoint as one of their consolidators, she said. By yearend 1999, 42% of those surveyed were using Transpoint.

Still, Transpoint trails CheckFree in key areas. It does presentment for 31 billers, against CheckFree's 62, and has only two distribution Web sites - its own and Microsoft's MSN MoneyCentral personal finance site. A hundred Web sites present CheckFree bills.

On its Web site, Transpoint lists 10 banks, including Citibank, Wachovia Bank, Bank One Corp., and KeyCorp, that it says will soon distribute bills through its service. Intuit Inc. also is expected to begin presenting Transpoint bills to users of its Quicken financial software and its Web site.

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