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Emerging Payments

Texas Bank Experiments with Charging for Mobile Bill Payments

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As First Financial Bankshares expands beyond mobile check capture to mobile bill payment — letting customers pay bills by taking a picture of them with their phone — it's also considering the feature a source of fee income.

"We plan on initially charging a fee for mobile bill payment. It's a convenient option that allows customers to pay from any location," says Jeff Casey, vice president of alternative delivery channels at First Technology Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of FFIN, which is a $4.3 billion-asset bank based in Abilene, Texas.

FFIN is an early adopter of Picture Pay, a mobile payment system developed by Malauzai Software and Allied Payment Network. Consumers complete payments by taking a photo of the bill statement, confirming the amount to be paid via the mobile device, and submitting the payment through the financial institution. The tech behind the service includes optical character recognition, which reads the data from the statement, and analytics that are built into the app to confirm the biller's information.

Malauzai provides the mobile enabling technology, while Allied Payment Network provides the processing rails and access to a network of more than 15,000 payees.

For the payees, the experience is similar to other forms of payment. Because the payment is being initiated by a mobile app that's part of the financial institution's mobile banking service, the payees don't have to register or log into anything. The service can include payment options such as standard, next-day or in some cases same-day routing. While the bank also offers Internet bill payment, the mobile service is in some ways a competitive alternative. The user avoids having to set up a biller for web bill payment, so there's time savings for the mobile version.

FFIN serves west Texas and faces a number of local and national competitors, which drove it to adopt mobile photo bill payment as a differentiator. The bank's mobile banking app already provides funds transfers, balance queries and mobile remote deposit capture.

While there's been some discussion in the banking industry about whether consumers will be willing to pay for mobile check deposit, FFIN, which serves a large portion of rural customers, says the convenience of being able to pay bills easily and from almost any location will make its fees palatable.

The new feature will allow the bank to move a greater volume of transactions to lower-cost digital channels. Mobile's obviously cheaper than mailing paper checks, and Casey says that in some cases, it's also less expensive than Internet bill payment.

"It's easier to support a mobile solution than an online solution; there's less customer service required and we see higher customer satisfaction in the mobile channel," he says.

Casey sees a particular opportunity among consumers who need to pay bills quickly and can benefit from accessing a bill-pay platform from a remote channel.

"It's for people who are looking for fast access," Casey says.

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