RealTime IT News

Getting Personal With Business Customers

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo rolled out online banking and bill-paying services for small business owners, letting customers pay both business and personal bills via the Internet.

The new service is called Wells Fargo Business Online Banking and Bill Pay, and lets customers pay bills from either a business account or a personal account with the banking company. It aims to compete with services like those offered by CheckFree Corp. , First Data and others.

"Rather than have separate personal and business bill pay services, Wells Fargo believes, and our customers confirm, that it makes sense to have anytime, anywhere access to a single, centralized service that fulfills all of their bill payment requirements," said Debra Rossi, executive vice president for Wells Fargo's Business Internet Services.

Small business customers can view account balances, review account activity, transfer money and make payments between accounts, download transaction histories, and access Wells Fargo Online, the bank said. Recurring expenses that are always the same amount -- an office lease, mortgage payments or bills from an Internet Service Provider -- can be paid automatically through the bank's Bill Pay service.

Customers can also make one-time payments for different amounts for bills like telephone or utility services, and can also send money to any company or person in the United States.

Most big banks are into the electronic bill paying business these days, and competition is heating up, as witness Bank of America announcement earlier this week Bank of America that it is waiving its monthly fee for the bill payment feature of Online Banking for new subscribers, making the entire service free. It had been $5.95 a month.

Bank of America claims 3.3 million active Online Banking customers and 1.1 million using Online Banking with Bill Pay.

The new Wells Fargo service is free for the first two months, and remains free for customers with a minimum combined balance of $25,000 at all times in their business and personal deposit accounts. For other customers the fee is $9.95 per month.

Wells Fargo says it has more than 315,000 small business customers utilizing business Internet banking services, over 70 percent of whom are active (regular users over a six-month period).