Apr 23, 2021
The Journey from Providing Paper Billing to Promoting Inclusion
Over the last couple of months, I’ve shared information about the unbanked and described some of the hidden costs of being unbanked — costs borne by both the unbanked and those of us in their communities. I appreciate those of you who are following along and hope you’ll continue to do so!
I also understand if some of you are wondering: What’s a guy who has spent more than 30 years at a company that started out providing paper billing services doing trying to address these issues? It’s a fair question. And it’s one I’d like to try to answer.
Leveraging New Technologies to Serve Our Customers
Founded in 1971 as Diversified Data & Communications, our company has a long history of identifying and adopting new technologies to serve our customers more effectively and efficiently.
From Mail to Fax:
Though we spent our early years providing paper billing services, in the 1980s we took advantage of what was then-new fax technology to move from printing and mailing our customers’ statements to faxing them. Using a big switching network, we were able to simultaneously fax hundreds of bills, which significantly decreased transmission costs and reduced statement delivery time.
From Fax to Email:
Although the portable document format (PDF) was created in the early 1990s, it didn’t come into vogue until the early 2000s. We were an early adopter of the technology, moving from printing and faxing bills to creating PDFs of bills and emailing them. This shift, from fax to email, further decreased transmission costs and reduced statement delivery time.
From Email to Websites and Mobile Apps:
As more and more people flocked to the internet, became comfortable navigating it, and felt secure conducting financial transactions through it, we saw another opportunity to leverage technology for our customers. Moving from emailing bills to offering bill paying on our customers’ websites led to even greater cost and time efficiencies.
Once smartphones became ubiquitous, adding the option to pay bills through mobile apps guaranteed the same efficiencies for our customers. It also provided more choices about how to pay, reducing payment friction and likely increasing both payment rates and timeliness.
Reaching the Limits of Efficiencies for Billers
While this brief history demonstrates our effective application of new technologies in service to our customers, it also illustrates that we may be reaching, or have reached, the limits of efficiency for billers.
New technologies appear every day, but it’s difficult to see how they could make already-efficient systems any more efficient. They may, like mobile apps, offer more choice (and therefore higher levels of service), but they are unlikely to make it any easier, cheaper, or faster for billers to get information to their payers.
Turning Our Attention to Payers
Having approached or reached the limits of efficiency for our customers several years ago, we started thinking more about their payers. We were confident in our ability to reach payers who were online through their computers or smartphones. But we quickly discovered that’s not everyone. We soon learned:
- There are millions of people in this country who have been left behind as technology has advanced — people who can’t get or can’t afford internet access.
- And there are millions of people who have been left out of the traditional banking system — people who can’t get or can’t afford a bank account, credit card, or debit card.
The DivDat Kiosk Network is the result of our search for a way to use technology to serve these left-behind and left-out populations, to level the playing – and paying – field.
With self-serve kiosks becoming a part of our everyday lives (think grocery store check-outs, fast food in-store orders, and airline check-ins), it’s not a stretch to think of using them to pay water or electric bills. And they offer free, convenient bill-paying services to the unbanked (and underbanked) and those without internet or computer access.
The Bottom Line
I am a guy who has spent decades at a company that started out providing paper billing services. That company has served its customers very well over the years — and continues to do so. But we’ve realized that the billers are only one part of the equation; the payers are the other part.
Many payers are already well-served, but many is not all. Inclusion is important. It’s time to bring those left out or left behind into the fold. So please, stick with me as I continue down this path.
I’ll be back soon to talk about how and where our kiosks are being used — and to what effect. In the meantime, please share any reactions to this post in the comments. I want to know what you think!
Jason Bierkle is President and CEO of DivDat Kiosk Network and currently on a mission to promote the inclusion of the unbanked and underbanked in today’s online banking and bill paying services environment through free, convenient, self-serve payment kiosks.