Utility Billers Help Mobile Payments Flow to More Users, Check Says

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Check, a mobile financial management and bill payment provider, is working with the Desert Water Agency in Palm Springs, Calif., to allow residents to pay their utility bills from its smartphone app.

Customers can now pay a water bill with a variety of payment methods, including bank transfers and credit card, via Check's Money and Bills app on their mobile device. The DWA is a non-profit water contractor serving 325 square-miles throughout Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs.

"It's really kind of a broader trend for us," says Steve Schultz, chief operating officer at Check. "We're focused first on the utility industry. Check provides its app and technology and in exchange the biller... promotes Check as its mobile payment channel."

In June, Check partnered with Alltel Wireless to promote its mobile app.

This strategy of partnering with phone, water and other utility providers, could bring a lot of exposure to Check.

"Today the bill-payment universe is fragmented," Schultz says. Consumers still write a lot of paper checks and go directly to the biller to pay in-person, he says. About 78% of bills are paid outside of banks, according to Fiserv's 2012 Investor Day Report.

With Check's app, consumers "can monitor their cash flow and what payment obligations they have all from the tips of their fingers," Schultz says. Bank transfers within the app are free, and credit card payments are subject to a 4% fee per transaction.

Check's approach also allows billers to cut costs. Check's clients say they save $1 in postage, paper and labor costs for every statement they stop sending by mail, and this figure is supported by Javelin Strategy and Research's Green Billing 2010 report, Schultz says.

"It's very costly to send a user a [paper] bill every month for a year," says Schultz. "If you have millions of users that can add up quickly."

Working with Check's app also spares clients the cost of developing their own app to accept bill payments, he says.

This move aligns Check, formerly PageOnce, with other payment providers working with city agencies

This year, alternative payments provider Dwolla began working with the Iowa state government in an effort to control costs.

In June, the Mississippi Department of Revenue gave mobile card readers to its agents. These devices allow agents to accept credit and debit card payments in the field.

Both federal and state government agencies that supplement direct deposit with an option to receive funds on prepaid debit cards lower costs, enhance services and improve security, according to a report issued by the Association of Government Accountants.

"Technology, for a lot of bigger cities, is a way for them to get out of the dark ages," Schultz says. "To innovate and keep up is really difficult; cities aren't really built to have those kinds of budget and staff."

The DWA will still allow paper checks and other traditional payment methods, plus customers will still receive monthly bills by mail.

In an effort to bolster adoption of the Check mobile app, the company is offering $5 off a customer's first DWA water bill.

And soon Check might have similar deals in place with utilities in other cities. "We're in discussions with a lot of cities and municipalities where our solution is very attractive...since you can get it up and running very quickly," Schultz says.

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