Voca partners with HSBC and Lloyds TSB for a fresh view of online bill payments

Voca, the payment clearing house formerly known as Bacs, is to launch an online bill payment and viewing service later this year...

Voca, the payment clearing house formerly known as Bacs, is to launch an online bill payment and viewing service later this year in conjunction with two high street banks.

Lloyds TSB and HSBC will offer the service to their customers in the latest attempt to get a UK-wide online bill viewing and payment service off the ground. Customers will be able to both view details and pay their bills from their bank's website.

The company behind the service, called OneVu, is a joint venture between Voca and US software supplier Checkfree, whose software will transfer billing information from banks and utilities.

Voca and Checkfree believe there is a gap in the market for a joined-up billing service supported by the high street banks and utilities. Customers will nominate bills to appear on their bank website so that they can view details before paying.

Voca will use its clearing network for the service with Checkfree providing its financial messaging, workflow and compliance software. By the end of this year, OneVu said it aimed to have nine billing companies signed up to the service.

Martin Kearsley, chief executive at OneVu, said the company had learnt from previous attempts to launch a common e-billing system.

"E-billing has been tried and has failed in the UK," he said. "One reason why it failed was that it was too ambitious too soon. We would prefer to walk before we run. That is why initially it will be aimed at consumers rather than businesses."

Currently about 60% of the 14 million people in the UK who bank online pay their bills online, according to OneVu, which believes its unified approach will prove popular.

On average e-billing nearly doubles the customer retention rate for companies, OneVu also claimed.

Alistair Newton, principal analyst at Gartner, said banks would have to decide whether e-billing was a high priority compared to other demands on their budgets such as corporate governance regulations.

"For banks it will be a question of whether the payments service is about providing enough additional benefits to the business compared to the cost of supporting it," he said.

"Banks have too many things to do and too few IT resources to do it with."

Previous online billing plans cancelled   

Previous attempts to create a nationwide system for unified e-billing have failed despite the benefits for business and consumer.  Plans for an online bill presentation and payment system under the umbrella of payment association Apacs were ditched in 2001 when banks failed to back the initiative.  In 2002 Intelligent Processing Solutions - a payment processing provider created by supplier Unisys and banks HSBC, Lloyds TSB and Barclays - announced plans for a common system that could handle hundreds of millions of bill presentations and payments over the internet. The launch of account aggregation services by some banks were initially overshadowed by data protection concerns.

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