The global technology vendor Unisys Corp. says it hopes its new electronic bill payment and presentment service will help it challenge the likes of CheckFree Corp. and the bank-owned consortium Spectrum EBP LLC.
Hoss Atri, the program director for e-payments at Unisys in London, said the service, Unisys e-action Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment Solutions, would be rolled out in phases: in Europe this year and in the United States beginning next year.
Potentially, we will be competing with Spectrum and CheckFree by next year, Mr. Atri said in an interview Thursday after the company unveiled the service.
Unisys e-action consolidates information from billers and presents it to the customers through their banking Web sites. An e-mail informs customers when a bill arrives.
Mr. Atri said the company is in contract negotiations with two unnamed banks one in the United Kingdom and another major global bank outside of Europe and the United States and hopes eventually to sign up 15 banks in the United Kingdom and 40 in continental Europe.
Banks typically would use the service under contract, but they could become equity investors in it, he said.
Unisys began developing the service last October with technology from Avolent Inc. of San Francisco. Though it is based in Blue Bell, Pa., Unisys said it had decided to introduce the service in Europe first because the competition there is less fierce than in the United States.
Compared to the American market, the U.K. and European markets are not in any way, shape, or form dominated by anybody, Mr. Atri said.
CheckFree of Norcross, Ga., is the U.S. market leader, but Spectrum, of Atlanta, and MasterCard International, with its Remote Payment and Presentment Service, are challenging it.
Despite the presence of three established players, the Unisys service has a chance to grab market share because U.S. customers by and large still have not adopted online bill payment, Mr. Atri said. The American market is five years mature now, and if you look at the potential in America the adoption rates are very low, he said.
Beth Robertson, a senior analyst at TowerGroup, a technology consulting firm in Needham, Mass., said the market for EBPP is very, very young here in the U.S., even though the names CheckFree and Spectrum are well known, and CheckFree has significant market share in online bill payment processing. Those companies still do not have a large share of the overall potential market in the U.S., she said.
Only 1% of all U.S. bills are both presented and paid online, and though CheckFree has signed up several major billers, theres nothing to stop billers from using several delivery alternatives since they want to reach as many consumers as possible, she said.
The Unisys stock, closed Friday at $10.74 a share, down 9% from a week earlier. The broader market also declined nearly 10%.
The Unisys service is modeled on those being used in the United States. It is bank-centric, meaning that it will sign up banks instead of billers and rely on its bank customers to bring in billers.
Spectrum originally used this strategy, but in May it made agreements with Princeton eCom of New Jersey and YourAccounts.com of El Dorado Hills, Calif., to distribute some of their bills to consumers served by Spectrums 22 member financial institutions.
Like Spectrum and MasterCard, Unisys will use open-standards architecture to electrify bills rather than proprietary technology like CheckFrees.
But like CheckFrees EBPP service, Unisys will include a consumer service provider component that bank customers can use to send bills and receive payments online. This differs from Spectrums switch, which lets banks determine how to transmit the data to their customers.
Last month MasterCard formed a partnership with Paytrust Inc. of Lawrenceville, N.J., which will give the card association a consumer interface for its service.