America Online has launched a service designed to simplify and streamline online bill paying for its members.
AOL Bill Pay, offered to members at no extra charge, is provided through an AOL alliance with Yodlee.com, a company specialising in online personal finance services.
AOL members who sign up for AOL Bill Pay will receive summaries of their online bills through AOL e-mail messages, from where they can link directly to the supplier websites to make the payments.
AOL Bill Pay consolidates login and password information into a single sign-on process through AOL.
The service can also be configured to provide alerts to remind users of due dates or of credit card transactions that exceed a certain amount, which could indicate fraud. AOL Bill Pay also stores expenses information, allowing users to track their spending history.
The security alerts are customisable and can be delivered in a variety of ways: via e-mail, instant messaging or as a text-based message in a mobile phone, said Andrew Weinstein, an AOL spokesman.
AOL Bill Pay triggers an alert as soon as a pre-set threshold is crossed, such as a bank account falling below a certain point.
The e-mail messages AOL generates for this service use special security technology that makes them impossible to spoof, so users know that the messages are genuine. The link on the body of e-mail messages take users directly to the web page where the payment is made, saving users time and increasing the convenienceid.
AOL Bill Pay can connect directly to more than 2,500 biller websites. If a user has an account with a supplier that is not part of the AOL Bill Pay list, AOL has the ability to add that supplier as long as it has the capacity to accept online payments.
AOL offered a similar but less comprehensive online bill paying service to its members, but discontinued it after its partner in the venture stopped offering it, Kenny said. AOL Bill Pay is available to AOL's US subscribers, but there are no plans to offer it elsewheere for now.
AOL estimated that 60% of its members pay at least some of their bills online, and of those about 67% pay them at multiple biller websites.
Some users might be hesitant to create a single sign-on to their online billing accounts, because, while convenient, it also creates a single point of failure should the information fall into the wrong hands, said Yankee Group analyst Patrick Mahoney. "Some people may prefer going to the individual websites instead of having the one password access to everything."
Still, AOL has a secure platform and a good online and e-mail safety record, so the service will seem attractive to many users and help AOL address its problem of subscriber defections, he said.
Juan Carlos Perez writes for IDG News Service