Americans Becoming ‘Payment Omnivores’

Three of four consumers use at least two bill payment methods each month.

January 28, 2013

Reflecting today’s many payment choices, most Americans are now payment “omnivores,” using multiple channels to pay various bills, according to new research from Fiserv.

Three of four consumers use at least two bill payment methods each month, and more than 20% of consumers change how they pay their bills from month to month for reasons including funds availability, payment due dates, and amounts owed, Fiserv’s fifth annual Billing Household Survey reports.

These options include online payments at bank and company (biller) sites, paper checks sent via mail, walk-in payments, phone payments, and mobile payments made via apps or mobile web browsers.

Payments initiated via a mobile device, such as through an app, still make up a relatively small percentage of bill payments overall, but they gained momentum year to year.

Eight percent of online households, representing eight million households, paid at least one monthly bill this way, up from 6% in 2011. In comparison, only 3% percent of infrequent and non-Internet users (720,000 households) use mobile bill payment.

Growth was most notable among smartphone owners, with mobile bill payments among this group jumping 41% over the previous year. In addition, one in five consumers who own a tablet paid a bill through a bank or biller site using a tablet.

Key drivers for mobile bill payment include time savings (50%), anytime access (44%), and convenience (43%).

When asked what mobile billing and payment capability they’re most interested in, nearly one in three respondents indicated they were very interested in viewing and paying bills from their smartphones.

Online vs. offline households

Online bill payment at financial institution and biller websites has become the norm among online households: 73% of those who access the Internet at least once a week now pay at least one bill online each month.

These consumers not only pay bills online, they receive them there: 48% of online households receive at least one electronic bill (e-bill). E-bills contain the same information as paper bills, but are delivered through a financial institution or a biller website.

E-bill use also has a positive effect on customer relationships, with 37% of consumers who receive e-bills saying it improved their relationship with the company from which they received the bill.

In contrast, infrequent Internet users (those who access the Internet less than once a week) and non-Internet users still rely on checks to pay bills. Of this group, 75% pay at least one bill via check each month.

Additional survey findings revealed:
►Thirty percent of survey respondents paid a bill late within the previous year, primarily due to cash-flow difficulties. This was up from 28% in 2011 but down from 38% in 2010.

Infrequent and non-Internet users were more likely to report paying late because they had trouble keeping track of their bills, with 25% citing this as issue.

This group also was three times more likely to incur late fees due to difficulty tracking bills, and it was three times as likely to report losing a bill that came in the mail (19% versus 6% of online households).

Only 7% of online households said that trouble keeping track of a bill caused a late payment.

►When paying monthly bills, online households are more likely to use auto-debit (50% of online households versus 38% of infrequent and non-Internet users).

►Both groups are equally likely to pay a bill in person at a retail location, while infrequent and non-Internet users are significantly more likely than online households to pay a bill at a convenience store, grocery store, or check cashing store.

Consumers who pay bills in these locations say they prefer the personal interaction and like that they can receive a receipt as proof of payment.

“Different consumers expect and value different billing and payment offerings from their service providers,” says Jardon Bouska, division president, biller solutions, for Fiserv. “By understanding these preferences, billers, service providers and financial institutions can offer a billing and payment experience that meets a wide range of consumers’ needs and demands, from traditional methods to new and growing areas such as mobile payments.”

Click here for more findings.