RealTime IT News

AOL: You've got Bills (Again)

America Online is taking a second crack at offering free online bill payment to its members by teaming with financial software vendor Yodlee.

AOL Bill Pay is part of a larger push by the Dulles, Va., ISP to supply useful "life-management" tools to customers as a way to dissuade them from defecting to lower-cost rivals.

Others offerings from the online arm of Time Warner can be used to track family members' schedules, find and save recipes and chart the progress of diets.

Although it's billed as a "new service," AOL Bill Pay is actually AOL's second foray into the space. In late 1999, the company signed an exclusive five-year pact with Intuit .

But less than two years later, when part of Intuit was sold, the agreement was nixed, AOL spokesman Billy Kenny told internetnews.com. There are no AOL subscribers left on the Intuit platform.

"Users had to pay $5.95 per month for [the Intuit-based] service, and it didn't have all fraud protection and billing history features like this does," Kenny added.

The revised AOL Bill Pay has been in the works for about 15 months. At its core, it similar to the old Intuit service, allowing users to receive, pay and track bills online.

But rather than fumble with multiple user names and passwords for separate company and bank sites, the Yodlee's technology aggregates 2,500 of the largest billing enterprises through a single interface. For example, the billing sites of most major wireless carriers can be accessed.

Bill Pay users access their accounts by answering a single security question, which they set and can change as often as they wish. Members can also set alarms to alert them to large credit card transactions, which could tip them off to fraud.

AOL's Kenny said company research shows that 60 percent of AOL members already pay some bills online and 67 percent of those do so at multiple-billing websites.

Joe Laszlo, a senior analyst with Jupiter Research, said that any consumer who uses Bill Pay will likely be more loyal as a result.

"However, it would surprise me greatly if the service attracts a large percentage of AOL's subscribers, particularly those who already have an online payment method," Laszlo said.

Consumers who already pay online likely view bank and biller sites as a more logical place to settle accounts online than an ISP. And, no matter how good the service, some people still aren't ready to adopt the service, Laszlo said.

Editor's note: Jupiter Research and this Web site share the same parent company.