Banking’s Online Bill Pay Gets Ready for a Reboot

Flexible finances are more or less a given in today’s world. Consumers have access to multiple digital wallets, credit cards and all manner of other services for making purchases online and at stores. They can invest, gamble, book a flight or even buy a car with just a single click. But when it comes to paying bills, it’s a very different story.

Online bill payment is tiresome, slow and inconvenient, to name a few problems. Customers may have to pay before a certain time of day to avoid late charges. Even worse, they may be limited to using a very specific method of payment. And the entire process suffers from a lack of clarity for both the biller and the payer.

“When banks tried to offer a bill payment solution on the web, the online bill payment, they literally copied the paper paradigm and put it online,” Paymentus President and CEO Dushyant Sharma said in an interview with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster. “So if you make a payment on the bank’s website, the billing company has no idea it has been initiated, forcing the consumer to call [the company to ask them not to charge them a late fee].”

Frustrated with such outdated systems, Sharma took it upon himself to build an entirely new kind platform — one that aims to automate and improve bill payment by providing consumers the freedom to pay from anywhere, using any device, with the method of their choice.

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Paymentus is a unified platform for billing companies, which only have to integrate with it once. From then on, they can access multiple payment channels with ease as they are added to the Paymentus platform, allowing billers to accept bill payments through PayPal, Alexa, Walmart, Green Dot or various other digital wallets and payment channels such as IVR and Kiosks. The platform also allows consumers to pay their bills through hundreds of different banks or credit unions, Sharma said.

Giving consumers the option to pay using their preferred method makes billing companies’ jobs much easier. As Sharma puts it, those companies simply want to get paid; the best way to ensure that happens is by making it as easy as possible for their customers to make those payments. That means easy access to their billing ecosystem, wherever they are. It also means creating a similar experience for users across platforms and letting them pay using their preferred method — be it a credit card, debit card, digital wallet or something else.

Another key ingredient is immediacy, with real-time, or close to real-time, payments.

“Now, all of a sudden, consumers can get a text message on their cell phone and make a payment from there,” Sharma said. “Or if I put my kids to bed late at night and I realize I have to make payment, I can do it there and then. I have multiple options, and I don’t have to wait to call next day or go to the bank, make a payment, and then call the billing company and say, ‘Please don’t charge me a late fee.’”

Providing more convenience for consumers is only half the battle. Paymentus also wants to make life easier for the employees of billing companies by providing them with automation tools and swapping out unwieldy processes for more efficient ways of doing things.

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Sharma’s company has patented a system that allows it to take a customers’ payments without requiring them to provide any financial information to an agent over the phone. The technology works by temporarily removing the call center agent from that conversation, he explained, using an automated system to collect the financial information and then routing the call back to the same agent who was handling the call for closure. According to Sharma, it saves companies a lot of PCI compliance headaches.

“You, as a team member, are no longer worried about exchanging financial information, because that’s always a risky thing to do,” he said. “And the actual call is shorter, too, so that’s another benefit.”

While Paymentus works directly with many billing firms, it’s also aiming to help banks revamp their own outdated bill payment systems with a new product called Bill Center.

“Frankly, Google Search is newer than [banks’] bill payment processes,” he said. “the current bill pay experience is equivalent to me asking my employees to write with a typewriter or asking them to look something up with the Yellow Pages.”

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With Bill Center, Paymentus brings all the things it has done for billing companies and extends them into the bank channel. In turn, this lets bank customers make a payment at the last minute, using the payment method of their choice, without ever having to worry about additional charges, Sharma said.

As keen as Sharma is to get banks on board with his vision, he insisted his company will succeed with or without them. He pointed to the company’s traction with billing companies and said it’s more than capable of maintaining its growth.

“We will continue to grow, and we’ll continue to do our part to simplify payments for customers,” he said. “And it really is so easy nowadays: You can use a mobile app, whether it’s the bank’s or PayPal or something else, or go to the billing company’s website, or even send a text. We are making payments easy regardless of who wants to participate.”