BlueGill & billserv.com

billserv.com Inc. announced that it has formed an alliance with BlueGill Technologies to offer professional services for certain companies seeking an electronic billing presentment and payment solution.

Under the terms of the agreement, billserv.com will be licensed to perform implementation services and install BlueGill’s EBPP software. billserv.com’s professional services staff will participate in BlueGill’s comprehensive product training in April.

Louis A. Hoch, president and chief operating officer of billserv.com, stated, “We are excited to team with BlueGill in the marketplace. Their product is an important addition to the product offering within our eConsulting group. We will utilize BlueGill’s EBPP software for our customers who either wish to maintain an in-house solution for EBPP or utilize eServ, billserv.com’s Internet billing clearinghouse service.”

Vinay Gupta, chief financial officer of BlueGill stated, “We at BlueGill are pleased to be a part of the solutions being offered by billserv.com and are confident that customers seeking an effective EBPP system will benefit from the combined expertise of billserv.com and BlueGill Technologies.”

About BlueGill Technologies

Founded in 1996, BlueGill Technologies (www.bluegill.com) is an international software development company with business solutions that enable companies to transform legacy systems into interactive web applications for managing customer relationships, services and transactions.

About billserv.com

billserv.com is a consolidator in the Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment Industry. The Company has four product offerings: Internet billing clearinghouse services (eServ(SM)), ePublishing(SM), customer care services (eCare(SM)) and professional consulting services (eConsulting(SM)).

Certain statements contained herein are “forward-looking” statements (as such term is defined in the Private Securities Reform Act of 1995). Because such statements include risks and uncertainties, actual results may differ materially from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements.

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I-Bill Promoters

Billing over the Internet is a hot, new trend according to CA-based Killen & Associates. Killen’s “Enterprise e-Billing and Payments Markets” study reports that financial, utility, and telecommunications service companies are moving briskly to issue consumer and commercial bills via the Internet. The study cites the following companies as early adopters of I-billing: AirTouch, Boston Edison, Chase, and MCI WorldCom.

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SCTI Launch

The SmartCard Technology Institute will be launched this morning at an initiation program in Toronto, Canada. The `Executive Insights’ program is slated to begin in late March with sessions in Toronto, New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. SCTI president Murray Johnston will lead this morning’s initiation. Smart card experts Dan Cunningham and Catherine Johnston will join forces to deliver the ‘Executive Insights’ program in the U.S..The SCTI organization comprises a partnership of leaders in the smart card industry.

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Mobile Drives Smart Cards

The UK’s SJB Research released a new smart card report that concludes the worldwide boom in digital mobile telephones is going to be a major driver for the smart card market. SJB says the next big push in smart card chip technology will take place in the area of dual interface chips. These will initially be required for combined transport and payment applications. The 400-page smart report with over 100 case studies is available by contacting enewham@sjbresearch.com.

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E-Bill Fight

Intuit Inc. announced Wednesday it is filing suit against Checkfree Corp. over the way it distributes E-bills. The complaint, filed in California’s Santa Clara County Superior Court, seeks damages and injunctive relief against Checkfree. The court papers allege that Checkfree is not complying with the terms of its April, 1998 bill presentment agreement with Intuit. In the 1998 contract, Checkfree agrees to support Intuit web-based bill presentment products with its processing services, and not to offer web-based bill presentment products of its own in certain distribution channels. Checkfree is the primary provider of bill pay and bill presentment processing services for Intuit and the financial institutions it works with. Intuit owns 19.9 percent of Checkfree.

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Alaska ATM Crash

Saturday and Monday were good days to not have been counting on modern banking technology, as about 120 of the state’s 330 automated teller machines experienced intermittent outages.

The temporary outages also affected debit cards serviced by the Alaska Option system, according to John Shipe, president of Alaska Options Services Corp.

Alaska Option contracts out to run the processing of ATMs for many financial institutions in the state. The company also serves as the intermediary when one bank’s card is used at an ATM owned by another institution.

The system processes about 1.5 million transactions a month, with weekends and the end of the month busier than normal, Shipe said.

This weekend fell into both of those categories, with Friday being payday for those who normally get paid at the end of the month, he said.

Alaska Option ATMs were down intermittently for about four hours on Saturday and another two hours Monday, Shipe said.

The problems stem from Alaska Option Services converting to new software, Shipe said. The company has the software installed and is converting its customers and ATMs to the new system in 15 steps.

The last four steps in the software conversion should be completed within two weeks, he said.

The company experienced a problem in June with its first conversion. That glitch gave one member institution problems for about two weeks, Shipe said.

No other problems were experienced with the software changeover until Saturday.

The new systems are tested and retested, but it’s almost impossible to catch all the glitches, Shipe said.

Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, the state’s largest credit union, received about 100 phone calls concerning the problem, according to spokeswoman Nancy Usera.

The manager of the call center guessed most of the calls came from the Lower 48, where customers who are traveling or in the military were concerned about why their cards didn’t work, Usera said. Local customers could have gone into a branch office, she said.

“We were having problems from around 12:30 to 2 p.m. (Monday),” Usera said.

First National Bank of Anchorage experienced some problems associated with the Alaska Option system early Monday morning, said Cheri Gillian, vice president of marketing. She did not have any specifics on what the problems were.

The bank has been experiencing some unrelated momentary problems with its out-of-town ATMs, she said. The problems last only a few seconds and are being blamed on sunspot activity disrupting communications, Gillian said.

Alaska Option Services is owned by seven institutions, including Alaska USA, Credit Union 1 and National Bank of Alaska, Shipe said.

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Amex Targets Canada’s Middle Market

American Express today announced that it plans to increase its marketing focus on the $4.6 billion Canadian “middle market” for business and travel related expenses. The card and travel company, which is already the market leader in corporate expense management, says there is even greater opportunity to help growing mid-sized companies with 20 to 100 travellers gain greater control over ballooning business and travel costs.

According to Amex Canada Inc. research, mid-sized organizations spend a whopping $4.6 billion annually on business travel and entertainment (T&E) and an average of $13,200 per traveller each year. T&E ranks as the second largest controllable expense for mid-sized companies, behind salaries and ahead of data management.

Bill Stanwick, head of Amex’s Mid-Market Program, says that until now mid-sized companies have been under-served by travel management companies. The company estimates 25% of its current business comes from the middle market.

“Our research shows mid-sized companies typically believe they are too small to get real savings through negotiated programs with airlines and hotels, or through improvements to their internal business processes, like Fortune 500 companies can. And travel agencies have not done a good job of providing them with real cost advantages and travel management advice,” Stanwick says adding, “We want to change all that. We know there are millions in savings waiting to be realized. And our new program is intended to help mid-sized companies find these savings.”

Stanwick says that most of the businesses in the mid-sized travel market consider themselves growth companies that expect to increase their level of travel and expenses as their operations expand. Over half (51%) of their workforce travels at least once a year on business, which represents a 46% increase since 1994. And there has been a 38% increase in spending on business travel to the U.S. during the same period.

Stanwick also says that only 22% of such organizations take advantage of negotiated airfares compared to three times as many large companies (67%). By using the buying power of American Express, mid-sized companies now have access to preferred pricing for air, hotel and car rental rates as low as those many big companies enjoy. He reports that this can mean up to 53% off standard corporate hotel rates.

“We are developing a range of travel management products and services specifically designed to give these companies the same level of control over expenses as big companies,” says Stanwick. He adds that Amex is also offering the option of outsourcing expense management functions. By outsourcing, companies can save time and money on administration and focus more attention on growing their businesses, he says.

According to Amex research, mid-sized companies are also early adapters of technology. As part of this new initiative, the company is offering fast and convenient on-line interactive booking. Business travellers can access Amex’s preferred airfares, rental car and hotel rates through their desktop PC or laptop computers. For more personalized service, small teams of dedicated travel counsellors are available to make reservations and arrange complicated itineraries.

Amex has also reconfigured the way it helps each mid-sized company manage their business travel and expense payment processes by providing one point of contact. This Account Representative can help develop travel policy, consult on management information reports, identify specific ways to save money, and provide information and education on travel management trends.

American Express in Canada operates as Amex Canada Inc. and Amex Bank of Canada. Amex Canada Inc. is a leading provider of travel related services in Canada and assists companies in managing and controlling their business and travel expenses. Amex Bank of Canada is the issuer of American Express Cards in Canada. Both companies are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the New York-based American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc., the largest operating unit of American Express Company, which provides a wide range of financial and travel related services for consumers and companies.

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Taxing Proposals

Is charging U.S. personal taxes with a bank credit card a worthwhile proposition? According to a recent survey by Roper Starch more than three quarters of consumers surveyed say they would rather pay by check than cash or credit card. However the March issue of CardTrak (cardtrak.com), due to be released tomorrow, cites specific examples of how the advantages of charging federal personal income taxes via bank credit cards can be very rewarding. For example, CardTrak cites the example of a United Airlines ‘Mileage Plus MasterCard’ cardholder who recently charged a $5,000 tax bill. The cardholder, who paid a $125 service charge for the transaction, earned 5,000 United Airlines air miles for the transaction. While the nominal value for most airline miles is two cents per mile, under certain scenarios the miles can be worth far more. The cardholder cited in the above example, booked a round-trip ‘Business Class’ seat for late March for $882 and 20,000 United Airline miles. The normal cost of a United Airlines ‘Business Class’ round-trip seat to London is $5,300. Since the cardholder is a frequent flyer, at the United Airlines ‘Premier Executive’ level, earning double miles, the March trip to London will earn the cardholder approx. 15,000 UA miles. The net result is the consumer’s $5,000 credit card/income tax transaction was worth a net gain of $4,293 ($5300 ticket value minus $882 cash and minus an $125 fee for the income tax transaction.) According to Karen Hube of the Wall Street Journal, some cardholders have inquired as to charging as much as $1 million to $4 million worth of taxes this year. A transaction of this size could have a net value of more than $300,000 according to the March issue of CardTrak. Incidentally, Intuit, which accepts the Discover card for personal income tax payments, reported yesterday that, so far this year, more than 175,000 taxpayers have filed via ‘WebTurboTax’, which is nearly nine times that of last year’s total volume.

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Phonecard Lawsuits

APCC Services, Inc. and Data Net Systems, LLC have filed two more lawsuits in Federal district court in Alexandria, Virginia, against switch-based resellers and prepaid calling card issuers who have failed to pay payphone service providers compensation for the use of their payphones, as mandated by Federal Communications Commission regulations. These lawsuits, the second and third in a series of suits APCC Services and Data Net will be filing, name Business Telecom, Inc. of Raleigh, North Carolina and EconoPhone, Inc. of Paramus, New Jersey.

According to Vincent R. Sandusky, President of APCC Services, “Business Telecom and EconoPhone, like PT-1 Communications which was named in the first suit we filed, have not responded to our bills and demands for payment. They have flagrantly violated their legal obligations under the Federal Communications Commission regulations and have caused considerable hardship to independent payphone service providers and misled consumers by failing to make their required payments. These lawsuits seek not only the amounts owed for compensable calls since the regulations took effect in October 1997, but also interest, punitive damages and attorneys fees.” Federal Communications Commission regulations require these long distance carriers to track and pay per call compensation at $.284 per call for the period in question.

Sandusky also noted that there will be more lawsuits filed in the coming weeks against other resellers and prepaid calling card issuers that continue to disregard their payment obligations. “We are vigorously pursuing these collection actions, but we are also in negotiations with several companies that have indicated a desire to resolve these disputes without the need for litigation,” he said. Sandusky said “carriers who come forward now without the need for litigation may be able to avoid punitive damages.”

APCC Services, Inc. and Data Net Systems, LLC are duly authorized billing and collection agents for over 2,000 payphone service providers for purposes of collecting payphone compensation from carriers such as Business Telecom, Inc. and EconoPhone, Inc.

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Alitalia JCB Card

Italy’s Alitalia and Japan’s JCB Co. announced this morning they will begin accepting applications for a new co-branded credit card next week. The new, ‘Alitalia/JCB Card’ will offer cardholders the option of earning air miles on Alitalia airlines. The card also offers double miles for purchases at designated stores, including famous Italian fashion boutique Max Mara. JCB said yesterday it projects signing-up 50 million cardholders in the first year. This is Alitalia’s first co-branded credit card. According to the ‘Nikkei Industrial Daily’, Alitalia has eight flights a week between Japan and Italy, and carries around 110,000 passengers a year on the route.

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Comm E-Commerce to Top $1 Trillion

A survey carried out by WEFA Group on behalf of Visa International has revealed that the worldwide market for commercial electronic commerce is expected to exceed US$1 trillion by 2003, representing a compound annual growth of 69 per cent over the next five years. In 1998, approximately US$77 billion was spent through commercial trading over the Internet.

The estimate is significantly higher than previous forecasts and outstrips the forecast for consumer spending over the Internet, which is expected to reach US$100 billion by the year 2002*. It is a major indication of the way in which companies will be doing business over the next decade and reveals how electronic commerce has the potential to dramatically reshape the business-to-business marketplace.

The Visa survey is the most comprehensive evaluation of the commercial electronic commerce market to date and includes detailed analysis of 17 markets around the world, representing 85 per cent of the total market opportunity. It also looks at which industries will be making most use of the Internet, the size of companies trading over the Net and the type of goods and services purchased.

Among the key findings are:

– of the 17 countries studied, 94 per cent of purchase volume will be focused in five countries: France, Germany, Japan, UK and USA

– the US represents 59 per cent of volume with Europe and Asia Pacific each representing nearly 20 per cent

– the services and manufacturing sectors will be the largest users of Internet technologies to carry out commercial transactions, followed by government/education, financial services, and retail trade

– while medium (50-249 employees) and very large (500+ employees) businesses have the highest volumes, small businesses (1-49) will see the fastest growth

– 39 per cent of purchases will be from businesses providing maintenance, repair and operational services such as temporary and janitorial services, training classes and office supplies. Some 12 per cent will be travel related purchases, such as booking business flights and hotels

– while the Internet currently accounts for over 95 per cent of electronic commerce activity, by 2003, 27 per cent will be carried out over Extranets. These are computer networks that link a company to a supplier or supplier network, creating a related community of specific companies and suppliers.

According to Visa, the findings show considerable potential for the use of commercial payment cards as the preferred payment method over the Internet. Silvia Harris-Payne, senior vice president, Commercial Products and Services, Visa International, said: “This study suggests that significant market opportunities exist for all Visa commercial products, including Visa Corporate, Visa Purchasing and Visa Business cards. By integrating emerging technology and existing Visa commercial programs we are meeting the growing needs of commercial customers for secure, reliable service in the virtual world. For Visa member banks, the opportunity exists to add value to their card programs by offering their commercial card product as the best way to pay, and be paid, over the Internet.”

While total Internet transactions currently comprise only a fraction of Visa’s global volume of US$1.3 trillion, online purchases represent one of Visa’s fastest growing market segments and commercial online transactions will account for a significant proportion of this amount.

About Visa International

As the World’s Best Way to Pay, Visa is the leading payment brand and the largest consumer payment system worldwide with more volume than all other major payment cards combined. Visa plays a pivotal role in advancing new payment products and technologies to benefit its 21,000 member financial institutions and their cardholders. Visa has more than 70 smart card programs in 33 countries and on the Internet, with 23 million Visa chip cards, including over eight million Visa Cash cards. Visa is pioneering SET Secure Electronic Transaction? programs to enable and advance Internet commerce. There are more than 630 million Visa-branded cards, which generate over US$1.3 trillion in annual volume. Visa is accepted at more than 15 million worldwide locations, including at over 450,000 ATMs in the Visa Global ATM Network.

* 1998 Visa projection based on assessing the level of electronic commerce activity in numerous countries around the globe.

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