Digital-first Cash Payments

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The Challenge

Customers who pay in cash due to preference or need have limited options to pay their bills for water, gas, and electric utilities. Many of these customers are under-banked and don’t have easy access to pay bills by card or check, online or over the phone. These customers often must take time off work or find child care to visit a payment center or government building during business hours, and pay in person via cashier. If they want to pay by dropbox, they’ll need to purchase a money order, since dropboxes don’t accept cash. This requires an extra step and an extra fee to acquire the money order.

If a utility doesn’t have payment centers, or if those buildings are closed, customers may have to pay through a third party, like a Western Union or a check cashing store. These places don’t make it easy for customers to pay: they require someone to have their utility bill on hand, and know the exact balance. They often charge high fees on top of a customer’s bill. These payments don’t post automatically to a utility provider’s customer information system (CIS), risking late fees or service interruptions. This also leads to more customer service calls for people calling about the status of their bill, since a customer can’t be confident that their payment posted to their utility account.

And utilities miss a crucial opportunity to be in contact with these customers, who are often the most vulnerable and would benefit from other useful services provided by the utility, like free payment plans and relief programs.

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The Solution

New CityBase technology enables session transfer, allowing customers to start a transaction online and complete it in person on a self-service payment kiosk at a later time that’s convenient. Utilities can designate the payment window, such as within 24 hours, buying the customer more time to pay their bills and avoiding service interruptions. Customers visit their utility provider’s website to look up their bill using any information available in the utility’s CIS, like a service address, customer name or phone number, or their account number. Customers find their up to date account balance, and begin a payment as a guest or by logging in. 

Customers can choose to pay by cash, in the same place they see options to pay by card or bank account. Cash customers receive clear instructions on how to complete the transaction on a nearby kiosk, and by when. Kiosks can offer convenient 24/7 service, provided directly by a utility. Customers avoid late fees or service interruptions. Kiosk payments post to their account in real-time, even after hours. Cash customers pay for free on a kiosk, because CityBase never charges a fee on a cash payment. 

Utilities own the entire customer experience for their hard-to-reach cash customers. They gather important information about their customers online, like whether they often choose to make partial payments on a bill, and can offer relevant services like payment plans and relief programs.

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