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Is eBilling only for Internet users?

At the turn of the century, electronic billing was the new, new thing. Ten years on, it's become the norm for Internet users to receive bills via email or collect them from a website.

But email and web billing only caters for consumers with access to the Internet.

This got me thinking about the millions of consumers that don't have Internet access – how best to introduce this massive market segment to the benefits of electronic bill presentment (and payment)?

Telecommunications in third world countries

Third World countries such as those in Africa lack the most basic of infrastructure such as water, sanitation and electricity, and access to land-based telecommunications is limited. These countries have seen an exponential growth in the mobile telecommunications sector.

In South Africa, one of the fastest growing developing countries in the world, there are more active SIM cards in circulation than there are people. This means a population with a ratio of more than one mobile phone per (economically active) capita. In stark contrast, research shows that only 10% of the population has their own Internet account and possibly 30% have an email address.

So while email or Web billing is suitable for first world countries where access to household bandwidth is plentiful, it appears to be limited in its application to developing countries.

Does Mobile = Email ?

With the advent of smartphones, the ability to communicate via email to a broader base of individuals who traditionally would not have had access to a PC, has vastly improved.

It makes sense to send an email attachment that provides both a summary of their bill, along with detail (if required) to the customer. The customer wants quick and easy access to their billing information, so how about an email that pushes a summary of your billing information to you, as well as enabling you to pay in one easy click? This technology is available from any device that supports email.

But not all mobile users have smartphones or email access.

Target groups at LSM 5 / 6 represent the greater mass market in most 3rd world countries. Many of these people still receive bills, yet the majority may not have an email address, or the ability to view email on their phone.

The biller still wants to cut costs with paper turn off. The target market has mobile phones, but not necessarily mobile email. Which brings me to consider the use of text messaging (SMS) or MMS for the presentation of billing information.

Text messaging and MMS – good complements to eBilling?

These mediums don't suit me personally, for several reasons: I don't see a logical way of filing my information via MMS or SMS – whether on or off my phone; It seems like a much less formal way of communicating an outstanding balance (perhaps I am a little old fashioned); but most importantly if I want any level of detailed information or if I wish to take action i.e. pay my bill, I need to navigate elsewhere like a WAP site or USSD session.

However there are some clear advantages: the obvious is having the ability to receive a push notification without an email address. Text messaging or SMS is suitable if I require a summary of my Payment Due information and from that I'd be comfortable to make the payment.

I know that my itemized billing information only interests me if I spot a discrepancy in my outstanding balance, but some recipients will want to view their full bill on a monthly basis which cannot be done in an SMS.

Enter the MMS. For the right brand, an MMS is funky – appealing to a specific generation who filter relevant information by viewing short snippets and having the option to view more if required.

Both the SMS and MMS channels allow these requests to be managed by exception e.g. via navigation to a WAP / mobile site for full billing information.

I believe there is a requirement to communicate digitally to people without email addresses. I also believe that SMS and MMS can and will complement email as push billing methods. That being said, the rich and interactive format of email, without having to go online and incur a further cost to navigate to your itemized information, a one click payment from within the email and the easy filing of this information type is still first prize for me.

Let me have your thoughts....


Comments: (2)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 25 April, 2012, 11:30Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Most people within the portrayed customer segment - no Internet / email access - tend to use prepaid mobile connections. Those amongst them who have a banking relationship are only likely to have debit cards. In India, for example, prepaid and debit outnumber postpaid and credit by over 10:1. Since there are no 'bills' for the former category, the medium of delivery of bills seems somewhat moot.

SMS-based EBPP could actually be useful for the opposite customer segment i.e. the one that does have Internet / email access and postpaid / credit card accounts. Compared to email / portal based payments, it's much easier to hit reply with a 'YES' to an incoming SMS seeking payment. Since this segment does have a credit card or some other funding source that can be linked to their mobile phones, the payment loop can be easily closed. 

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 07 November, 2012, 10:27Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Billing that is device and channel agnostic, is the best way to go to get the best uptake. eMail is one channel. PDF is one format. Limiting to email + PDF just shuts out many potential recpients and forces them to paper + post.

Not all recpients have email addresses but often do require access to documents such as invoices, statements, payment advices etc. Even people in the lowest LSMs are in the credit market and can benefit.

A approach the covers all types of devices (entry level mobile; feature phone; smart phone; tablet; PC) and channels (eMail; SMS; MMS; Online) is feasible and can deliver good results if approached correctly.

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