Striata CEO, Mike Wright interviewed by the PaypersPublished on 19 Apr 2010
The Paypers, Vol. 3 Issue 08, 15 April 2010
“The future of e-billing lies in taking the concerns, desires and interests of consumers into account”
Striata is a global e-documents, e-billing and e-marketing software application developer and services specialist. The company provides direct email delivery of secure e-bills on behalf of billers, including banks, telcos & utilities. The Paypers sat down with Striata CEO Michael Wright to discuss the company’s activity, its perception on the global EBPP industry and the business implications of sending the bill as an email.
The Paypers: First of all, I would like to ask you to provide our readers with a brief insight into Striata’s activity as a specialist in the fields of electronic document delivery and EBPP. What are the main focus areas for Striata and why?
Michael Wright: We’ve been successfully delivering electronic bills for financial services, telco’s and utilities around the globe for over 10 years.
We focus on the consumer experience because we’ve understood most people’s reticence to proactively do anything to receive an electronic bill, which is why paperless adoption rates continue to disappoint. Consider the average consumer who has become accustomed to receiving their paper bill in their mailbox, with no effort required by them.
What most billers are doing now is forcing the consumer to jump through all kinds of hoops to turn the paper off: an online registration process which is often time-consuming; remembering a complex user name and password to access the bill; and an often confusing navigation trail to find the latest bill. Understandably, the majority of consumers resist the online obstacle course many billers have built and ignore the multitude of marketing messages to turn off their more convenient paper bill.
Striata’s Secure eDocument Delivery and Email Bill Presentment & Payment (EBPP) are solution sets that deliver a rapid reduction in operational costs, quicker payments and an enhanced customer experience.
The Paypers: As a provider of secure e-document delivery and Email Bill Presentment & Payment (EBPP), what are some of Striata’s approaches to these two business areas? What are some of your main business strategies and where do you envisage the highest growth potential?
Michael Wright: Our Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is very obvious; we send the electronic statement to the customer. This has proved time and time again that it drives customer adoption. We see this model becoming a significant part of every biller’s strategy into the future.
The Paypers: In which markets is Striata currently most active? What volume of e-bills does your company handle?
Michael Wright: Our largest markets are North America and South Africa, (where we started the company). More important than the number of e- bills we handle annually is the phenomenal successes our clients have achieved. Our paperless adoption rates are well above the industry average of 12 – 18%.
- IREA achieved 11% adoption in the first month.
- Triad Financial achieved a 75% cost saving in the first year of use;
- Denver Water reduced their billing costs by 85% and reduced their Days Sales Outstanding from 45 to only 9 days – a significant achievement;
- Whitby Hydro collects 90% of their payments electronically and has seen an 18% DSO improvement;
- Chubb Insurance saw an 88% cost reduction and achieved 16% paper turn-off in 12 months from a standing start;
- Time Warner Cable (Spectrum) achieved a 12.32% click- through rate on their transpromo marketing;
- Vodafone South Africa turned off 5.2 million paper bills in one year.
I could go on with further examples from our 250 clients. The point is, our solution works when paperless adoption is a key metric.
The Paypers: What are the top three barriers to e- billing adoption your company has encountered so far and what strategies have you employed to overcome them?
Michael Wright: Overwhelmingly the most pervasive barrier to eBilling adoption is the requirement to register a username and password to convert to eBilling. This is followed a close second by the irritation factor of “fetching” your bill each month. I recently counted that it took 17 clicks to fetch and send my company mobile invoice to my accountant for payment.
The Paypers: What is Striata’s overall perception of e-billing as a global phenomenon? What short and medium-term outlook do you envisage for e- billing and what would be your company’s positioning relative to the evolution of e-billing over the coming years?
Michael Wright: It should be obvious to all in the industry that we have failed miserably on our promises to deliver the holy grail of totally paperless billing. When we all jumped on the Internet bandwagon in the late 90’s and heralded a new age of digital commerce, most billers neglected to take human nature into account.
As technologists we looked at the available security and encryption solutions available at the time. Email was not secure, but we could ensure access control to a secure website. “If we build it they will come,” we all said, and so we set about designing graphically beautiful online portals which satisfied fraud and security henchmen but seriously ignored and sidelined our consumers.
The future of e-billing lies in taking the concerns, desires and interests of consumers into account. Let’s acknowledge their hectic lives and make it easy for them to turn off paper. Every consumer receives on average between 10 and 15 bills per month. Expecting them to remember 15 system- generated user names and passwords and memorise the navigation path through each online obstacle course is a pipe-dream our industry will never achieve.
The Paypers: Striata often describes itself as “Leading the ‘Push’ revolution”. Could you provide our readers with some background information regarding your company’s experience with ‘push’ e-billing? What makes you refer to it as “the way of the future”?
Michael Wright: We started our company by sending electronic marketing on behalf of retail banks. This phase of our business taught us valuable lessons in getting important email delivered and opened.
When our banking customers approached us to develop a solution which delivered statements via email, we gladly took on the challenge, because we could see how this would simplify consumers’ lives. Remember, this was in 1999 when email couldn’t be relied on to deliver sensitive transactional documents. Working with the banks, we developed a unique solution which:
- Did not require the user to register online;
- Used an easy-to-remember ‘shared secret’ to decrypt the bill or statement, and;
- Did not require high speed Internet access, which was a concern in the late 90’s.
Consumers loved our solution and continue to be our most loyal supporters. In test after test where a choice is given between accessing a bill online and receiving it by email, consumers have voted with their keyboard and mouse and chosen “push” e-billing because it’s easier for them. Push e-billing is the way of the future simply because it shows Joe Public that as billers we recognise that without the consumer our business wouldn’t exist. Whether billers like it or not, most consumers view their service providers as necessary evils that bully, cajole and dictate how a consumer should interact with them. Push e- billing provides an added option which simplifies the consumer’s life while providing them a more environmentally billing alternative.
The Paypers: Striata has recently published a white paper on obstacles to paper suppression adoption. As a provider of paperless billing solutions, are you “winning the war” against paper-based billing?
Michael Wright: Billers are in an awkward time right now, having spent millions on secure online portals. They are now being forced to achieve a meaningful ROI on their investment and so they’re employing “carrot and stick” programs to try and change consumer behavior. They are either offering an incentive for paperless billing or charging for the paper bill. This process will continue for some time, with only mediocre results.
Despite how ineffective online portals are, CEO’s feel obliged to continue down the portal route because the promised returns have not yet been achieved. It’s a difficult decision to pull the plug on a multi-million investment. And it’s even more difficult to invest in yet another solution when the portal approach hasn’t delivered. But progress is never without difficulties. We’re seeing more and more CEO’s realizing that human nature is an important consideration in their billing strategies. When the shift happens, Striata stands ready with case studies and plenty of proof that “push” is a more consumer-friendly paperless solution.
The Paypers: In your opinion, does the long-term future look bright for e-billing? What would be the top three “winning trends” for the years to come in this area?
Michael Wright: The top three business drivers in any business remain:
- Reducing costs;
- Achieving a rapid Return on Investment, and;
- Delivering products and services that delight consumers.
I’m a firm supporter of e-billing, otherwise I wouldn’t be in this business. But traditional e- billing hasn’t met any of the business drivers above. Email remains the killer business application, despite its perception of being passé. It’s the first application to be started in the morning and the last to be closed at night. I’m confident that in the near future every business will provide their customers with a simple and easy to use eBilling solution that involves sending the bill as an email.