Like a lot of alternative payment startups, the light bulb for Marci Lobel-Esrig came from a personal experience that demonstrated how clunky and risky paper-based transactions can be.
"I was visiting my aunt, who said she had to drive to her car dealer every month just to drop of a check. I wanted to fix that," said Lobel-Esrig, a financial lawyer, president and general counsel at SilverBills, a startup that manages recurring payments for seniors.
Lobel-Esrig estimates 90% of SilverBills clients do not own a computer. Instead, her clients' adult children or another third party usually engage with the online-only SilverBills. The company acts like a bill pay concierge, ensuring bills get paid in a timely manner, managing fraud risk, detecting errors and investigating sudden spikes, vetting scams and guarding against ID theft.
"For example, we had a client with a telephone provider that doubled her bill in a single month," Lobel-Esrig said. "We called and corrected that. Or if your parents have a gardener or someone who takes care of the lawn, we manage that recurring payment."
Users pay an enrollment charge and a flat monthly fee, and receive statements and access to a money management portal, which would typically be accessed by an authorized third party.
The senior citizen clients do not have to open bills, mail checks or use websites. The online component is more for tracking payments and facilitating communication between SilverBills and its clients' adult children. SilverBills' clients also continue to receive billing statements.
"Much like hiring a housekeeper, going out for a manicure, or hiring a caddie, at this stage in my mom's life it's just easier having someone capable, trustworthy and responsible do it for you," said Julie Kline, a Seattle resident who uses SilverBills for her mother, who lives in New York.
Kline heard of SilverBills through her mother's volunteer work at an organization that provides rides, handyman services and social programs designed to keep seniors in their homes.
"My father passed away recently—my parents were married for almost 50 years—and my mother was faced with taking care of everything herself," Kline said. "My mother is still capable of paying her bills but I felt that because of [SilverBills] she doesn't have to. We look at SilverBills as taking something off of my mother's plate."
SilverBills' generational strategy is the opposite of most other family-oriented payment portals, which focus on educating or reining in the spending of young people under parental supervision. What's similar is the personal experience driving the idea—youth and family money management companies like FamZoo were often created by users with some experience in the financial or technology business who didn't see the mix of risk management and payment function in the existing market.
"There's a huge need for this sort of thing," Lobel-Esrig said, adding that managing monthly billing can be challenging for seniors, and is also fraught with fraud risk.
There are also a few payments and financial management programs aimed at seniors, such as TrueLink, though Lobel-Esrig said she is not driven by the market opportunity. It's more about the risks for fraud inherent in juggling multiple payments, or helping an older parent juggle multiple payments from afar. "We want to help people age with dignity."