Paying Bills

Was thinking in the weekend about places where I waste time, areas of inefficiency in my extremely well-ordered life (cough splutter).

One of the more obvious was bill handling. I receive paper bills during the month from the likes of Energy Australia, Sydney Water, David Jones, our local council for rates, etc. These all go into a pending file in the filing cabinet, in date order, and I then periodically check that file during the month and pay any bills that are coming due. If I get busy or forgetful I may miss a due date and pay a bill late. If a bill gets lost in the post I may not pay it at all. And the process is all dependent on me polling my billing file at some reasonable frequency.

There are variants to this process too. Some of my friends do all their bills once a month, and just queue the payments in their bank accounts for future payment on or near the due date. That's a lower workload system than mine, but for some (mostly illogical) reason I find myself not really trusting future-dated bill payments in the same way as immediate ones.

There's also a free (for users) service available in Australia called BPay View which allows you to receive your bills electronically directly into your internet banking account, and pay them from there. This is nice in that it removes the paper and data entry pieces of the problem, but it's still a pull model - I still have to remember to check the BPay View page periodically - and it's limited to vendors that have signed up for the program.

As I see it, there are two main areas of friction in this process:

  1. using a pull model i.e. the process all being dependent on me remembering to check my bill status periodically and pay those that are coming due. My mental world is quite cluttered enough without having to remember administrivia like bills.

  2. the automation friction around paper-based or PDF-based bills, and the consequent data entry requirements, the scope for user errors, etc.

BPay View mostly solves the second of these, but it's a solution that's closely coupled with your Internet Banking provider. This has security benefits, but it also limits you to your Internet Banking platform. For me, the first of these is a bigger issue, so I'd probably prefer a solution that was decoupled from my internet banking, and accept a few more issues with #2.

So here's what I want:

  • a billing service that receives bills from vendors on my behalf and enters them into its system. Ideally this is via email (or even a web service) and an XML bill attachment; in the real world it probably still involves paper bills and data entry for the short to medium term.

  • a flexible notification system that pushes alerts to me when bills are due based on per-vendor criteria I configure. This should include at least options like email, IM, SMS, twitter, etc. Notifications could be fire-once or fire-until-acknowledged, as the user chooses.

  • for bonus points, an easy method of transferring bills into my internet banking. The dumb solution is probably just a per-bill view from which I can cut and paste fields; smarter solutions would be great, but are probably dependent on the internet banking side. Or maybe we do some kind of per-vendor pay online magic, if it's possible to figure out the security side of not storing credit card info. Hmmm.

That sounds pretty tractable. Anyone know anything like this?

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