The need for digitization is rising, especially in a prolonged COVID-19 environment. Consumers are increasingly demanding more from their payment and banking experiences, and the bill pay experience, in particular, is a cumbersome process for consumers, banks and billers. Now, more than ever, innovation and change are needed.
In a recent Q&A with PaymentsJournal, Tede Forman, Head of Consumer & Commercial Payments at Jack Henry & Associates, and Mark Visic, Senior Vice President of Business Development at KUBRA, explored the current bill pay space and why it needs to be reinvented. They also offered insight into why both companies have chosen to partner with Mastercard for Bill Pay ExchangeTM.
What is the consumer bill pay experience like today, and what are some of the current and historical challenges?
Mark: Today, customers experience a very disjointed payment process. Poor user interfaces and a lack of communications drive uncertainty about payment acceptance and speed. Customers also often feel limited by a lack of payment options and payment channels from billers, especially in industries such as utilities and government.
Tede: Also worth mentioning is that bank bill pay has lost some ground with competition from biller direct sites, card on file payments for streaming services, and industry consolidation. As a result, we have seen that most consumers use a combination of bank and biller solutions, different payment types, and a mix of digital and offline options, including mailing checks and even paying by cash. And as this is occurring, we know customers are also looking for that ability to receive and pay their bills easily and seamlessly in one place.
Mark: For customers making payments through their banking system, demand has remained steady, however, there is room for improvement with regard to communications and payment delivery, as customers are not always confident that their payment is going to the correct biller.
What are the major industry trends impacting bill pay today and how are they changing organization-level operations? How are they influencing customers?
Tede: Mobile first, real-time payments and real-time confirmation, the ability to use a ‘card’, and improved user experiences are influencing customers and their bill pay choices. Customers are looking for choices and the ability to pay how they want and when they want. So, solutions that are mobile-first and offer choice of payment types such as being able to pay in real-time or with a card are important.
Mark: Self-service payment options continue to gain steam and whether customers prefer to go online, use a mobile app or IVR, or visit a kiosk to make payments, it’s clear that they prefer to self-serve and want payment channel ubiquity. While bank websites and biller websites have topped the list of preferred payment channels for many years, we are now seeing mobile apps take the top spot for payments. In KUBRA’s biennial Billing and Payment survey of Utility customers, the preference for mobile app payments grew by 25%, representing a preference by 57% of consumers, and bank websites are still leading the pack – in fact, 54% of consumers prefer to use their bank website to make bill payments.
How have things changed in the wake of COVID-19?
Tede: At the beginning of the pandemic, as unemployment rose, we saw an initial drop in bill payment activity. However, over time, we have seen the need for more contactless, safer, and secure digital solutions. For example, the ability to make a bill payment electronically reduces the need to pay a bill in person. Also, as customers are having to tightly manage finances and cash flow, we are seeing an increase in need and demand for real-time payments, the ability to make partial payments and receive timely notifications.
Mark: We have seen billers look for ways to ease the burden on consumers. Some billers have frozen or suspended late fees to provide relief for impacted customers, while others have rolled out more flexible payment plans and expanded bill assistance programs. We have also seen an increased desire from our customers to drive electronic bill delivery and greatly reduce the proportion of check payments.
Will plans to innovate accelerate due to COVID-19? What needs to happen from an industry perspective to make bill pay better?
Mark: Billers definitely see the need for more digital channels as customers stay at home and practice social distancing. During the lockdown, utilities saw a 73% increase in digital payments, according to Razorpay research. Customers are preferring to use digital payment options versus cash and credit cards due to the diminished hygiene risks involved.
Following COVID, the use of digital and electronic payments will likely continue as customers have become increasingly familiar with these payment options. Billers will likely see payment innovation, especially around electronic payments, as a place to focus to ensure they are prepared for future disruptions.
Tede: We are seeing a strong and growing interest in real-time payment methods with payment confirmations. Merchants and bill pay service providers need to continue to come together to offer demand-driven payment delivery options, to continually improve the customer experience, and to educate consumers on the benefits and security of electronic payments. With real-time technology, there is power in the ability to move data and money together, and that can vastly improve experiences for all.
Mark: More billing and payment options for customers, more transparency, more self-service offerings, and addressing security concerns of customers will grow adoption and efficiencies throughout the ecosystem.
Why did you choose to partner with Mastercard for Bill Pay ExchangeTM, and what features are you most excited about?
Mark: Knowing how popular bank payments are with consumers, we felt the Mastercard Bill Pay ExchangeTM product was an excellent enhancement to our payment solutions. Mastercard Bill Pay ExchangeTM also enhances straight through processing and eliminates costly exception handling costs for billers in the bank distribution channel.
Combining the ability to simplify the authentication of a customer’s account and linking to the biller in real-time, allows the customer to feel secure in the fact that their payment will be processed properly while also allowing the biller to drive process efficiencies and cost savings by ensuring that once the bill is presented, the payment will be automated.
Tede: With Mastercard Bill Pay ExchangeTM we can offer a simplified and enhanced experience for our financial institutions’ customers including electronic bill presentment, real-time notifications and confirmations, and eventually real-time payment delivery methods.
All in all, it is evident from our conversation that the consumer bill pay experience is ripe for innovation. There seems to be a clear call to action across players in the ecosystem, and we expect to see more engagement on this front, especially with new real-time technologies emerging in the wake of COVID-19. For more information on Mastercard Bill Pay ExchangeTM contact NewPaymentFlows@mastercard.com.