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How Americans pay their bills – and why companies should care

couple paying bills

If Americans love anything, it’s the freedom of choice. But when it comes to how American consumers and businesses receive their bills, they don’t have much of a say. Every year, over 15 million bills are issued in the United States – and most of them are still mailed out in a paper format.  Although American consumers and businesses don’t have much of a say in how they receive their bills, they have plenty of choices when it comes to how they want to pay their bills. Besides mailing a paper check or paying on the phone, here are some other ways American consumers and businesses pay their bills:

  • In person or visit their financial institution’s branch. Believe it or not, many consumers (and even more small businesses) still pay their bills in person or make a trip to the bank branch. This payment method can be a time-consuming process.

     

  • Using their financial institution’s online bill payment service. Many financial institutions offer free online bill pay services. Customers can pay all their bills in one place, but this method can also be time consuming, as it requires manual entry of account information. Other drawbacks include customers not being able to view their bill (they still must rely on a paper copy), and there is no confirmation that payment has been received.

     

  • Allowing their billers to ‘pull’ payments from their bank accounts. This method is convenient, but it doesn’t provide much flexibility or control. There is also potential for accidental overdrafts, which is a risk that many financially disadvantaged aren’t willing to take.

     

  • Using a digital bill payment platform. Enterprises partner with a trusted technology provider to host a digital bill presentment and payment platform on their website. This provides a fast, easy and convenient way for customers and suppliers to view and pay their bills in one place.

     

With so many choices, American consumers predictably end up using a multitude of means to manage their billing and payment activity. Even when e-billing or other digital means are available, consumers still tend to ‘double-dip,’ with 60 percent of consumers using three or more methods to pay their monthly bills. While this plethora of payment options could lead many to assume that it’s easier than ever for today’s enterprises to get paid, the reality is quite different.  

man paying bills

How more bill payment options creates more problems for an enterprise

Receiving a customer payment is part of what many finance professionals call the Order-to-Cash (OTC) process.  At a high level the OTC process includes all the business practices required to get paid – from order receipt, fulfillment, invoicing, payment processing and reconciliation of product and service purchases in business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) industries. Inefficiencies or errors in part of the OTC process (especially when it comes to payment processing) can lead to delays in getting paid, which has a negative impact on the financial health of an organization. Cash is required for the purchase of raw materials, product manufacturing and distribution, marketing activities, sales, salaries and business administration.

That’s why it’s so critical for enterprises to identify new causes of payment delays or payment processing bottlenecks and take corrective action. Slow payments have a big impact on an enterprise’s ability to do business.

The growing number of bill payment options and channels available to consumers and suppliers has made the OTC process extremely challenging for today’s enterprises. That’s because each type of payment must be processed differently. Many bill payment channels (with the exception of digital bill payment platforms) send the payment and remittance information separately. This requires enterprise finance teams to wasting hours, even days, manually hunting for remittance details in separate systems, such as email. The more time enterprise finance teams spend reconciling these different types of payments, the more difficult it is to manage cash flow and run the business.

It’s not just B2C industries that must contend with these OTC challenges. Paper-based processes still maintain a strong hold in the world of B2B bill payments as well. For example, some large suppliers to a wide range of companies may have dozens of ways to collect their payments and receive their remittance data, too often separate from the payment. Factoring in these delays along with greater risk of error and heightened occurrences of CEO and business email fraud, it’s easy to see the stakes are much higher.  Despite these challenges and new innovations in digital bill payment and processing technologies, not much has changed when it comes to how enterprises present a bill to their customers, or how their customers pay them.

Why it’s time for enterprises to care

It wasn’t until the pandemic that enterprises quickly realized the need for change. The pandemic amplified existing OTC challenges and created new pain points. Office closures made it difficult for businesses to mail out paper bills. With Accounts Payable teams at home and unable to cut paper checks in the office, many businesses struggled to get bills paid.

Shelter in place orders created new-found challenges for consumers previously unwilling to use digital means to manage their finances, too. Consumers who paid their bills in person or with cash found themselves unable to visit bank branches or stores. For other consumers, concerns around contaminated cash changed consumer payment behaviors, with a growing majority favoring digital ‘contactless’ payment methods.

Increasingly, consumers and suppliers are exploring and becoming more acclimated to paying their bills through digital means. Depending on the industry (like a utility company), paying a bill may be the only reason a customer visits a business’s website. That’s why it’s increasingly important that when a consumer or supplier arrives at a website, they are offered a simple way to view and pay their bills in a few clicks.

Digital bill payment platforms give consumers and suppliers control and convenience These technologies eliminate the need to send out a paper check every month.  Consumers and suppliers can conveniently make payments using a saved card or directly from their financial institution. The platform can provide complete access to their collection of bills, too.

Digital billing and payment processes are faster, more accurate and easier for everyone.

Faster payments can help enterprises improve their cashflow, enhance working capital, and more.  Investing in a digital bill payment platform can enhance the financial health of an enterprise, because the payment and remittance information arrive together (instead of separately), eliminated the need for enterprise financial teams to spend hours locating missing information.

The critical need for digital transformation

COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation in many industries, to include how enterprises get paid. Accepting digital payments from consumers and suppliers is no longer a luxury. Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business and today’s enterprises have a lot riding on their ability to get paid in a timely manner. In today’s world, a digital bill payment platform is critical to improve and maintain cashflow, especially when business is disrupted.

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