It may seem that e-billing benefits only those who have computers and Internet access, but this is not the case. Even disadvantaged people own cell phones, which allows them to take advantage of some of the services that e-billing offers.
This is according to Herman Venter, regional executive: provincial and local government at Business Connexion’s Pretoria Regional Office, who says that if the definition of e-billing is extended to include the ability to receive billing advice and effect payment on cellular handsets, then almost every South African stands to benefit.
Furthermore, says Venter, the production and distribution of electronic utility or other bills costs significantly less than that of paper bills. This frees up money and manpower to be concentrated on service delivery for ratepayers.
The use of electronic channels by municipalities goes further than just e-billing, however, and can also be used to communicate valuable information to the ratepayer, such as early notification of excessive or abnormal usage of services.
Venter acknowledges that the majority of South Africans do not have access to the Internet and e-mail and so are out of reach of ebilling exercises done via these channels, but says that this does not mean that government cannot benefit enormously from such systems.
“Most of the revenue collected by municipalities comes from just 20% of its customers. For example, Ekurhuleni is the biggest industrial zone in the Southern Hemisphere – sending ebills to the businesses in these municipalities is certainly viable. The point is that ebilling is an appropriate solution in any municipality, but must co-exist with traditional billing methods,” he says.
According to Venter, municipalities are increasingly asking for ebilling functionality in tenders for their management systems; at least three are using ebilling systems already.
“Typically this is in larger municipalities, but there are businesses and Internet users in every municipality so therefore the opportunity exists to provide ebilling services,” he says.
The benefits of ebilling to the consumer, as well as the organisation providing the service, are numerous. The consumer benefits from immediacy, convenience of electronic payment (where ebilling is combined with a payment system) and the possibility of regular updates on account status.
The municipality benefits from a great reduction in the cost of producing invoices (including the costs of paper, postage, printing, handling and the necessary equipment) and automated collections and reconciliations.
Cash flow can also be improved since collections can be carried out more quickly. There is also the advantage of potentially improved, proactive communication with the consumer.
As to the strategies for an ebilling implementation, Venter advises an opt-in approach.
“Taking the concept of ebilling to customers is dependent on the segmentation of customers, so that those who have the appropriate systems at their disposal can be approached with the concept. Certainly, a phased approach beginning with larger spenders (such as business) and moving to individuals would deliver the best results,” he says.
Venter adds that the introduction of ebilling is a process that will take some time. Even so, it is highly unlikely that ebilling will ever fully replace paper. “It’s something which cannot be forced on customers – it should be up to the individuals to decide how they prefer to receive their bills. It is likely, however, that businesses would adopt ebilling more readily than individuals,” he adds.