Friday, March 9 unfortunately... won't

Our latest household water bill (less than a third of the Sydney average, w00t!) included a promo for - a service for time-poor, tech-rich groovers with lots of big monthly bills like me. Do I like paying bills? No, not even if I can do it all online. I want to do it faster, cheaper... ideally, have someone else do it for me.'s promise is to get as close as possible, by aggregating all your bills and allowing you to pay them via one service. Even better, it allows you to pay all your bills in one payment each month, just pay the minimum due, or spread regular payments out across the month.

I was very excited; until I tried to sign up and it all went very pear-shaped. The promotion in my water bill told me Payonce was ready to solve my bill problems. Unfortunately, it has too many problems of its own to be able to solve any of mine.

Minor credibility gap
I'm the sort of trusting early-adopter who'll sign up for nearly any service online, even if it means disclosing all my banking, billing and credit card details. But I'm odd: the typical consumer needs more than a little reassurance about who they're about to deal with.

When I clicked on Payonce's 'About us' link I expected to get some concrete detail about the company's executive team, investors and strategic alliances. The best example I've seen of this is the extraordinary detailed company information Wesabe reveals, including names, resumes photos and blogs of the company's founders, all its investors and alliances. Why, they even set aside a couple of hours each day in which the CEO will answer your questions on a toll-free number (not sure whether that scales to millions of customers, but heck, what a great start).

To my great surprise, Payonce thinks you'll be satisfied with the following cottonball fluff:

The dedicated team here at Acreis have got heaps of experience in banking, billing, finance, customer relations and IT, both in Australia and around the world. We've got the resources and know-how to bring you top class products and services!
I feel so much warmer and fuzzier than before. But who ARE the dedicated team? What exactly is the length and breadth of their various experiences? Are they safeguarding my banking details with their combined personal credit card limits, or with the financial guarantee of a bank or insurance company? I'm all in favour of friendly, informal 'voice' in a web startup's branding, but when you're dealing with my financial information, I'd like to see some hard facts too.

I wasn't reassured when I found there was no street address listed for the company, only a post office box in Tasmania (the outsourced telemarketing team capital of the southern hemisphere, like Mumbai, minus all the head wobbling.) There is also no ACN number advertised, only an ABN. I rang the 1300 number listed with the address and bounced around the phone tree until I was able to speak to a person, but she didn't reassure me much either:

Me: Can you give me your street address please?
Tasmanian working mum (TWM): You mean for head office?
Me: (thinks: no, your own home address! What do you reckon?) Yes, for 'head office'.
TWM: Umm... let me just bring that up for you now...
Me: (thinks: "bring it up?" You don't know where it is?)
TWM: Umm... sorry for the delay, it's just coming up now...
(four minutes later)
TWM: Umm... I'm really sorry, it's going very slowly today, let me try it for you again...
Me: No, it's OK, I'll call back later (much later!)
So that didn't reassure me very much.

Major biller problems
Let's start with the primary benefit: the ability to pay all of my bills. Full disclosure: my regular monthly bill pile includes bits of paper from Sydney Water, Energy Australia, Telstra, Internode, Australia Post, Citibank, Diners Club, Vodafone, Willoughby Council, RTA and those nasty, unpleasant people at the Office of State Revenue (only two more points on my driver's licence.)

How well does Payonce cover my regular billers? Well, this would be easy to establish if the site had a page just listing the billers, but in one of many user interface problems, it displays them in a horiz. scrolling display only wide enough to show 2.5 biller logos at a time. Thankfully, at the time of writing you don't need to scroll far, because there aren't yet many billers Payonce supports. Only two of my 11 regular billers are offered. That's only slightly more useful than useless.

Major competitors
Why so few billers? At a guess, I'd say Payonce is up against two factors:
  1. They won't admit it to your face, but most billers would prefer to reduce the number of different billing systems they offer. In Australia most consumers expect a biller to support cheque, over-the-counter, multiple credit and debit card providers, BPay and perhaps Australia Post's Billpay. Each payment method is a new payment gateway to integrate, new commercial relationship to be signed and serviced, and usage data to be collated and reported on. When Payonce can come to a biller with an installed base of hundreds of thousands of customers, it's got some leverage and may be able to dislodge another payment method. In the meantime, it can try to undercut its competitors, but margins are low and volumes high in the payment processing industry already.
  2. Some of the major billers Payonce would like to offer are direct competitors; primarily the local banks behind BPay and Australia Post, which offers Billpay.
Basic user interface problems
Payonce's entire user interface is delivered in a window 745 x 385 pixels. Somebody there still thinks they need to design for an 800 x 600 display. So very 1997, and utterly charming until you try doing something like reading the FAQs, which must then scroll in a sub-window. Until you sign up, the masthead and right hand nav remain, reducing your usable interface to about 500 x 250. Approaching landscape-format mobile phone screen sizes!

Major browser compatability problems
I couldn't sign up. I tried Safari, Firefox and Flock on my Mac, and it consistently crashed all three browsers when I clicked on the 'Apply Now' button.

Which leads me to my conclusion: don't launch your service - and certainly don't spend your hard cash reserves on (relatively expensive) print marketing - until your service is much
closer to being ready for prime-time. Until your site is Mac browser friendly, use online targeting to display your ads only to PC users and browsers you support. Only target IP ranges known to be in locations where you know you have the local billers covered better than 75%. And if you can't offer to pay bills from NRMA, RACV, AMP and Telstra, just don't market at all. Buy your way into those billers no matter the cost. Until your brand delivers what it so clearly promises, you're churning as fast as you can pay to acquire customers.

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