Bill Me Later Lands at #6 in the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing List

Link to Inc. mag listing for Bill Me LaterIt's isn't often you see one of the companies that we write about make it to the top of Inc. Magazine's list of fastest growing private companies (note 1). But this year, Timonium, MD-based Bill Me Later landed at number six.  

To make it to the top, it takes an amazing amount of growth over a three-year period; in Bill Me Later's case, 87-fold, usually combined with a very small number in the base year ($600,000 in 2003) to top the chart (note 2). 

The self-reported revenue figures for the company are:

2003: $610,000
2006: $53.6 million
3-Year growth: 8,650%
Number of employees: 100

The company's been on a fabulous run and it will be interesting to see how long they stay private. Depending on the credit quality of the company's receivables, it could be an attractive acquisition target for a traditional financial institution or for a certain Web-based payment giant. 

Two other companies we follow made the top 500:

#205: (Austin, TX) with an amazing $43 million revenues, up 10-fold from its $3.7 million in 2003. With 16 employees, the company does almost $3 million per.

#382: CashEdge (New York, NY) up 7.5 fold from $2.4 million in 2003, to $20.4 million last year, 315 employees. 

Congratulations to this year's high fliers.


1. The Inc. list was expanded 10-fold this year to 5,000 companies 

2. The percent-growth rankings are far more dependent on the denominator than the numerator. If Bill Me Later would have had $400,000 less revenue in 2003 they would have grown 268-fold and topped this year's list. However, even $10 million more in 2006 revenues would only push them up one spot. 

Wesabe, Billeo Add Image Capture: Is it the Next Must-Have Online Banking Feature?

Link to WesabeThis past week, two Web-based personal finance firms, Wesabe and Billeo, have announced feature upgrades (Wesabe release here, Billeo here). One common thread: the ability to easily capture screen images of ecommerce transactions and file them for later reference (note 1).

Link to BilleoThe time-saving feature was added to Quicken several versions ago, but it's still not yet supported at any financial institution or credit card issuer (see Online Banking Report: Personal Finance Feature for Online Banking here). While it won't change the world, it sure eliminates one of life's little hassles, the decision each time you transact online as to whether you really should "print out this page for future reference" (and where to store the pesky printout if you do.)

How image capture works today:

  1. Pay a bill or purchase something online.
  2. At completion of the transaction, select "browser snapshot" from Wesabe's drop-down menu or "save & file" from Billeo's toolbar (see screenshots below). 
  3. The image of the transaction confirmation screen is stored within the personal finance area and is available for future reference should there be a problem with the transaction; since it's stored as an image file, it can easily be emailed to a disbelieving customer-service agent. Billeo includes a "forward" button in its vault to make it even easier.

How image capture can be enhanced in the future: 

  1. It will automate the transaction-reconciliation process, scraping data from the confirmation screen and automatically verifying that the transaction was processed against the user's bank or credit account properly. Billeo popup
  2. If not, an email/text alert will notify the end-user of the potential problem.
  3. A template could be provided for communicating with the merchant to rectify the problem.
  4. The scraped transaction data could also be run against a tagging engine to add very specific transaction tags, e.g., the purchase at Amazon could be split into x dollars for music, y dollars for housewares and z dollars for housewares.

Billeo's Screenshot Capture Feature
To save a screenshot of a payment confirmation, or anything else, users select the shopping button on the Billeo toolbar. That causes a popup to appear (see inset for closeup) where the user selects the bank/card account, enters a transaction description if desired, chooses a page type, selects the correct purchase amount from the values scraped from the screen, and edits the date paid if necessary.

Billeo popup provides users a method of capturing payment details along with the screenshot of the page

Billeo page/transaction capture

Page viewed later in the transaction records
Users can view the transaction and/or image file later in two Billeo areas: My Vault (not shown) and MyBills (below). Mousing over the paperclip launches a thumbnail of the page; clicking on it launches a full-size view of the page.

Wesabe's Screenshot Capture Feature

To save a screenshot, users click on the Wesabe button on the Firefox toolbar. A few seconds later, the screenshot loads (second screenshot below) and users choose whether to "upload to Wesabe" or "save to disk" or both. After the picture has been saved, the user closes the screen. In our test, save-to-disk worked as expected, and it was easy to retrieve the file through Windows Explorer. However, although the upload to Wesabe seemed to work, we couldn't figure out how to access the uploaded screenshots within our Wesabe account.

Closeup of Wesabe tool

Wesabe page capture tool 

Full screenshot of page after launching Wesabe screenshot uploader

Wesabe page capture


1. Billeo has supported page-capture since its 2005 launch, but it was not integrated into the payments-transaction register.

Followup Friday: More on the Bank of America & Verizon Online Billing Co-promotion

Little did I know when I wrote about Verizon Wireless promoting Bank of America billpay on its site (here), that the company that brokered the deal, CheckFree, along with representatives from both consumer giants, would be presenting the results of the effort at Nacha's Payments conference last week (see note 1). I wasn't there, but I was filled in on the details by CheckFree's PR director Sheryl Roehl.

First, my assumption was wrong. It was NOT a paid placement by BofA. No money changed hands. It was classic joint marketing with each company promoting the other on their websites. The exposure to each others' massive customer bases trumps any concern over who benefits most by converting Verizon customers into ebilling users (see note 2).

In the prior post, I showed you BofA's ad on Verizon's site, here's what the Verizon placement looked like on the bank's site (note 3):

Verizon banner in BofA's main online banking area

Verizon placement in BofA's online banking area

Landing page for the Verizon promo

Verizon landing page from BofA promo

Email me if you'd like the presentation slides, which also include more figures about ebilling adoption (note 4).


Penetration of U.S. online household per Harris Interactive, Feb. 2007

1. The joint presentation was by: Angeline DePauw, director electronic remittance Processing, Verizon Communications; Laurie Profilio Sass, eCommerce marketing, Bank of America; and Lori Stepp, managing executive E-bill Adoption Services, CheckFree

2. It's hard to say which company gains the most in an ebill conversion. Verizon saves money by eliminating the paper and BofA potentially converts a customer into ebilling, an important retention benefit.

3. The screenshot is from the NACHA Payments presentation; it is a mockup, note the 2004 date, but presumably is an accurate representation of what the promo looked like.

4. CheckFree presented the latest penetration numbers at the conference, as determined in their Feb. 2007 research conducted by Harris Interactive. Three-quarters of ONLINE households, or about half of all households, now pay a bill or bills online with biller direct (55%) leading pay-anyone (38%) by a measurable margin (19% do both). See inset.

Bank of America’s "Paid Placement" at Verizon Wireless Bill Payment

Update: It turns out that this was NOT a paid placement, but a joint marketing program. See April 27 post here.  

Here's an interesting twist on marketing bill payment services, Bank of America's  presence  on the Verizon Wireless post-login account page (see note 1). Here's how it works, according to a long-time reader and Verizon customer:

When Verizon wireless customers log in to their Verizon account online, the main page has a banner encouraging them to pay their bills at Bank of America's online billpay site (see below). Verizon also hosts a page on the benefits of paying through Bank of America and a link to the bank's login screen (see below).

I haven't seen this before, but since it all takes place behind Verizon's login, it's not visible to the outside world. I checked out the Verizon website this morning and Bank of America is not mentioned in the public areas. Has anyone seen this at other merchant sites? Leave a comment or email

Everyone assumes that merchants want the bills paid directly on their site to maintain full control of the customer relationship. But evidently, even large merchants can be convinced to share the payment relationship if given proper incentives. 

Bank of America Banner on Verizon Main Account Page

Verizon Wireless account page with BofA billpay

More-info Page Hosted by Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless pitch for BofA bill pay  


1. I am assuming Bank of America is paying for the linkage; but it could be a joint marketing relationship where the bank pitches Verizon Wireless services in return for the exposure. The screenshots were submitted in early April.

Wells Fargo Adds Value to Mobile Bill Payments, But Not in the Way You Are Thinking

If you've been reading this blog for long, you know I'm going through a "mobile" phase. There's two reasons for that:

1. It's an interesting and important extension to online banking, our core area of expertise.

2. I am in the process of writing two extensive reports on the subject, the first was published a few weeks ago on mobile banking (link here) and the second is due out by the end of the month on mobile payments.

FRONT: Wells Fargo credit card insert touting cellphone protection So I had to laugh when I opened by Wells Fargo credit card bill today, not at the size of the bill which was not at all funny, but at the insert that fell out pitching, "cellular phone protection at no cost" (see front of insert right, back of insert below).  

This is a different type of "mobile payment" than what I've been thinking about lately. But, this Wells Fargo program is brilliant, and has a much better business case, at least in the short term.

Here's what Wells Fargo is proposing:

1. Put your mobile phone bill on automatic payment via your Wells credit card.

2. In the event your phone is damaged or stolen, you will be reimbursed for up to $100 in damages, after a $50 deductible (see note 1).

The business case for this program looks fabulous. Assuming an average mobile phone bill of $60/mo x 12 months x 1.5% ROA = about $10 per year in revenue. While the cost should be just a few pennies per year in insurance payouts, given the difficulty in filing a claim. 

Even though the bank will pay out benefits to cardholders who had their cellphone charged to Wells even without the incentive, the bank should earn 10x to 20x the cost of the program each year. BACK: Wells Fargo credit card insert on cellphone protection Maybe Wells can put some of that windfall into a new mobile access to online banking and credit card info. 


1. To keep costs down, the maximum number of claims is two per 12-month period, $200 in total. And the claim procedure is  cumbersome, especially for a maximum payout of $100. You'll need copy of receipts, statements, other insurance coverage, police reports, and so on. The full details of the fine print are online here.   

Citibank’s Instant-Win Billpay Sweeps

Ad on Citibank's Online Banking pageEarlier this year, we wrote about how easy it is to run an online instant prize contest using ePrize (see post here). Today, we see that Citibank is using the company to power an instant-win game and billpay usage sweepstakes. They share the same creative and both run March 1 through April 30, but otherwise have little to do with each other.

The instant-win game can be played by anyone and finishes with an ad for Citi's e-Savings account. The sweepstakes rewards Citi billpay customers with automatic sweepstakes entries tied to billpay usage. Here are the specifics:  

1. Instant win: Anyone who registers with an email address and date of birth may spin the wheel up to three times each day to win won of 300 prizes awarded randomly between March 1 and April 30, 2007. The total prize pool is $15,000 with one-hundred $100 winners and two-hundred $25 prizes. At the end of each play, Citi pitches its e-Savings account with 4.75% APY and $25 signing bonus, which is slightly different than its website promotion of 4.65% and $50 bonus (see screenshots below). 

2. Usage sweepstakes: Citibank billpay customers are also entered into a sweepstakes with a single grand prize of $25,000. Each bill payment of more than $5, after the first four during the 60-day run, receives one automatic entry into the sweeps. 

The promotion is advertised on its main Banking page with a small banner (see screenshot below). A larger promotion (see inset above) appears on the Online Banking page (see note 1).

Screenshots: Citibank signup page, "spin" the wheel to play, loser's page with cross-sell of 4.75% savings account (click to enlarge)

 Citibank's registration page for instant-win billpay game CLICK TO ENLARGE   Citibank's instant-win game CLICK TO ENLARGE  

Citibank e-Savings cross sell after losing the instant-win game 

Citibank main "banking" page with sweepstakes promo

Citibank's "Banking" page showing ad for instant-win game


1. Tested from a Seattle, WA IP address at 10 AM PDT. Cookies are enabled and will show multiple visits to Citibank, but no evidence of any Citibank accounts.

ING Direct Makes Checking (Almost) Fun Again

According to, the "modern" check dates back to the early 1500s; that is, if you don't count chiseled IOUs from the Roman era 2,000 years earlier (see history here).

Five-hundred years ago, I'm sure a "user customizable" piece of paper you could trade for a goat was an exciting new way to pay for something. But there hasn't been a whole lot of innovation since then. As a matter of fact, the paper check-writing practice has all but disappeared in most countries.   

That's why it's newsworthy when someone puts a new spin on a five-centuries-old product as ING Direct is attempting with its new Electric Orange (EO) checking, currently in invitation-only trial, but soon to be released to the entire country. And they are having some early success, landing more than 60,000 accounts as we mentioned here, and creating some online buzz as Ron Shevlin points to here at Marketing ROI.  

What are the features of Electric Checking

  • Cool name
  • Great user interface for payments (see screenshots below)
  • Same-screen initiation of electric (ACH) or paper payments
  • 24-hour payment delivery for $15 fee
  • High-payment limits: $100,000 for paper, $25,000 per day on debit card, $5,000 for ACH, and $1,000 per day on ATM withdrawals
  • Good branding with the ING Direct no-nonsense design, colors, and copy
  • 100% fee-free (other than a few rare items)
  • 4% to 5.3% interest depending on balance (see note 1)
  • 30-second account setup for existing ING Direct customers
  • Easy-to-use website and online access
  • No paper checks

Electric Orange is an outstanding product, with one major exception which I'll discuss later. The online integration of electronic and paper payments on the same screen makes it intuitive to use and perhaps the best bill-pay suite on the market (see screenshot below). With 32,000 free ATMs, high interest rates, and a MasterCard debit card, this account competes fairly well with old school checking accounts that also come bundled with unlimited free access to 5,000-square-foot human-powered branches. 

But I take issue with the account's most unique feature, "no paper checks" (see note 2). While I understand the marketing advantage of this anti-paper non-benefit, it's actually somewhat limiting for account holders. Instead of not supporting paper at all, why not simply charge a hefty transaction fee for paper checks while keeping electronic items fee-free? Sell me bright orange checks for $5 per 100 and charge a quarter per cleared check. That'll keep the volume down, while allowing customers the convenience of the old-fashioned paper check. And ING Direct gets the "viral marketing" benefit of those bright orange negotiable instruments being literally flown across the country.

I'd be willing to give up preprinted paper checks if a good subsitute were available. Reading earlier descriptions of the account before its introduction, I thought the bank had invented a new in-home process for printing checks, like printing through Quicken but a whole lot easier. Unfortunately, the paper option is good old online bill pay, complete with five-day mailing delays. That won't cut it when you need to pay the lawn guys standing in your front yard with a truck full of toxic liquid (see note 3).  

The last missing piece in EO is electrification of the deposit process. Since the bank opened its doors in late 2000, it's been exceptionally easy to ACH money into the account. That's been one of its key growth drivers. But now that it offers full checking services, the bank should adopt remote deposit capture technology so EO customers could zip paper checks to them over the Net (see USAA's remote deposit service here).

ING Direct Electric Orange main payments screen
Select electric or paper checks

Electric Orange "send paper check" interface
Looks just like a "paper" check, and no need to have the payee set up prior to creating the payment (see next step)

ING Direct "add payee" interface
If the payee in the previous step is new, users simply "address" this virtual envelope to set up the payee; users also have the option of not saving the payee info.


1. In online forums and blogs, some confusion has been expressed about what happens within this account when more than six transactions are made in a single statement period. In the account disclosure, ING Direct says that each Electric Orange account is divided into a savings account and checking account, and that the bank will direct deposits into the appropriate account as it deems appropriate, but that after six transactions, all funds will be put into the checking subaccount. However, all monies EARN THE SAME RATE OF INTEREST, so there is no impact on the customer, nor does the customer even see these transfers. It's a technical manipulation that saves ING Direct from having to maintain transaction account reserves on most balances, thereby cutting costs. 

2. Actually ING Direct does offer "remote paper check" initiation via the online bill pay function where users choose from electric or paper checks (see screenshot above). The bank just doesn't allow users to have the paper in their own hands.

3. The bank does offer a quicker ACH payment function, but you need to have access to the bank account number of the recipient, which is not readily available from most people/businesses to whom occasional checks are written. And ACH usually takes 48 to 72 hours to post in the recipient's account, unless they are ING Direct customers.

Digital Insight Now Officially Part of Intuit

Link to Digital Insight website Intuit's $1.3 billion acquisition of Digital Insight closed yesterday, marking the beginning of a new era of innovation in small business online banking (previous coverage here). It's a market that's been underserved for years (see Online Banking Report'sSmall- and Microbusiness Online Banking, #107/108).

Intuit, which has iPod-like domination of small business accounting and bookkeeping via Quicken and QuickBooks, can now leverage the software relationship into the banking relationship.  The bloggers at Intuit's QuickBooks team-blog expanded on that theme here, discussing their goal of integrating electronic invoicing and payments into the bank site:

Why the purchase? One reason is to try to sell functionality of our record-keeping software as a service through banks, letting small businesses create, send, and get paid for invoices, all online at a bank's site. With millions of QuickBooks customers, we think we have some insight into small business' needs…. We learned from our tax return business how quickly packaged software can move to a Web service. Last year, for the first time, more people used the online version of our Turbo Tax Web service than the desktop version.

This is not necessarily bad for financial institutions. In fact, it probably levels the playing field for the smaller banks and credit unions that are the core of the DI client base. Through integration into Intuit's accounting products, smaller banks will be able to offer sophisticated small business solutions that equal or surpass what Bank of America or Wells Fargo offers today.

billQ Uses Account-Specific RSS Feeds for Bill Payment notices

For the past few months, I've been more or less obsessed with RSS feeds (see our latest full report on the subject here). All of a sudden every information-delivery problem seems solvable with a feed.

And there is enormous potential for feeds in everyday banking which primarily involves simple information queries: What's my balance? Did my check clear? Was my mortgage paid? 

The first account-specific financial feed
I've been on the lookout for the first financial institution with account-specific feeds. That search continues, but a non-bank has been using feeds for bill-payment-status updates: previous OBR Best of the Web winner billQ <> (see previous coverage here).

The company has an "RSS Feed" option on its list of automated bill-payment-tracking mechanisms which also include an iCalendar subscription, an Apple OS X widget, or a toolbar applet (see screenshot below for billQ subscription options).

billQ bill subscription options CLICK TO ENLARGE

When using the RSS feed option, bills automatically appear in the user's newsreader software. Below is an example using the Newsgator Web-based reader:

Billeo Scores Distribution Deal with Target REDcard

Automatic bill pay description at CLICK TO ENLARGEIn a distribution deal similar to the partnership launched earlier this year, Billeo is now powering biller-direct payments for Target's REDcard (see inset). See previous coverage here.

Billeo received an Online Banking Report Best of the Web award in 2005 for its innovative toolbar-based payment services (see 15 March 2005 post).

How it works
New users start by searching for credit-card-accepting billers via zipcode and company search (see screenshot below).

To schedule a payment and use the other tools, users must first register with Billeo. While the initial biller-search screen runs under Target branding, the sign-up page and subsequent user interfaces do not maintain any Target branding.

Previous Billeo users can skip the registration process and simply sign in to their previous Billeo account.

Biller search powered by Billeo CLICK TO ENLARGE

billQ Bill Payment Mac Widget Released

Billq_widgetOur most recent OBR Best of the Web winner (NB Sep 1), Seen Creative's billQ, has achieved another industry first, a bill payment-tracking widget for Apple Mac users (here's where you can download it from Apple's site).

The widget allows Mac users to drop a small billQ screen right onto their desktop (see NB 2 May 2005). It allows users to see what bills are due and mark them as paid without ever leaving their desktop.

The widget can also be downloaded at billQ's website <>.