While consumers’ use of digital channels to pay bills has risen during the Covid-19 pandemic, one area of bill payment that has lagged in the transition to digital payments is billers that accept cash payments, such as utilities.
On Thursday, payment-technology provider InComm Payments and bill-payment platform doxo Inc. announced they closing that gap by enabling billers to receive digital payments from customers that prefer to pay in cash, which includes the unbanked.
Doxo is making its platform available to the more than 60,000 retail locations in InComm’s VanillaDirect retailer network. Consumers will be able to pay bills they normally pay in cash through a variety of retail chains, including Dollar General, Family Dollar, and participating 7-Eleven stores. To initiate a payment, consumers capture a barcode generated via the doxo mobile app and scan it at the register of a merchant in the VanillaDirect network. After scanning the barcode, the consumer pays his bill in cash through the merchant. Payment is then digitally sent to the biller through doxo, which services more than 105,000 billers in the United States.
“Having the ability to digitize cash payments for billers was a missing piece in our bill-payment service,” says Roger Parks, vice president and co-founder of doxo.
A primary target for the service will be utilities, such as water districts, and municipalities that bill for city services, such as trash collection and sewer hookup. More than 13% of utility bills in the U.S. are paid using cash, totaling $49.4 billion of the $380 billion spent per year on this type of bills, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
Prior to Covid, many utilities were looking to move away from accepting cash payments because of the cost and time it took to process those transactions. Then, “when the pandemic hit, many billers shut their office and did not accept in-person payments,” says Parks. “Covid actually accelerated billers’ move away from cash.”
Another benefit of the new service, Parks says, is that billers, especially those in small towns, do not have to set up the relationships and connections with individual merchants to accept cash payments on their behalf. Instead, billers connect to a single network to gain access to tens of thousands of merchant locations that can serve as bill-payment offices.
“Cash payments require more office locations and processing costs than digital payments,” says Parks. “Plus, the [digital] service is free to billers and consumers pay a transaction fee for each bill payment.”