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Online Billing Streamline Sought

December 7, 1999

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Paying bills by mail soon could be a thing of the past as companies rush to streamline online payments through banks and other financial institutions.

Sun Microsystems and Netscape are two of the latest companies aiming to cash in on the potentially lucrative market. The companies announced Monday they will together sell software to three of the nation’s top 10 banks to create a single place for customers to receive and pay bills online.

Under the new service, dubbed Spectrum, consumers wanting to do away with check-writing will eventually be spared the tedious process of visiting each merchant’s Web site individually to see details of their bills.

Currently, if they want to pay them online, they also might need to set up a credit card or checking account authorization at each particular Web site. Under Spectrum, consumers can handle their authorization and bill payment needs at a single site.

The consortium, formed in June by New York-based Chase Manhattan Corp., First Union Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., and San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, will use the software from Sun and Netscape, a division of America Online Inc. It will allow banks or brokerages to receive merchant billing information and to debit payments from customer accounts in a seamless process for the consumer.

``Banking customers are never going to have to lick stamps again to pay their bills,″ said Steve Savignano, senior vice of the e-commerce division for the Sun-Netscape alliance based in Palo Alto, Calif. ``There are many Web sites that offer the capability of presenting bills, but one of the biggest barriers to online bill payment has been the time-consuming process of going to all those sites.″

Online bill fulfillment represents a huge area of potential profits for banks, which can make money off fees charged for the service. Individual businesses could also save by not having to pay mailing costs.

Consumers also appear to be clamoring for such services. Research firm Jupiter Communications projects the number of households using the feature will jump tenfold by 2003, to 18 million.

In a separate development Monday, a rival system called Paytrust.com said Monday it has received $30 million in funding from Internet bank Softbank, American Express Corp., GE Equity and AT&T Ventures, among others to expand its services.

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