Around the world, pandemic lockdowns have resulted in the loss of jobs and income for many people, which, in turn, has affected their ability to pay their bills. Utilities and other service providers face unprecedented challenges and are doing their best to serve their customers while also balancing the need to keep their businesses running and take care of their employees.

In response to the pandemic’s economic fallout, many service providers are offering different types of financial support to their customers, such as reduced charges and payment extensions. However, a large number of customers are still struggling to pay their bills.

Most service providers offer direct debit as a form of payment for customers (both business and consumer), and it is widely reported that many customers are cancelling their current automatic payment agreements. The reasons are obvious. Business shutdowns, job furloughs and layoffs, and the overall economic downturn have led to revenue and income drops, forcing businesses and consumers to take drastic financial measures. 

At the same time, utilities and other service providers are faced with their own challenges, including handling increased call volumes from worried customers, keeping their staff safe (with many working from home for the first time), and assisting employees who are unwell or at risk. In addition, some organizations are unable to take card payments while their agents are working from home.

So how can service providers maintain their cash flow while helping their customers?

Moving beyond direct debit to request-to-pay

With direct debit, customers typically set up a date for payment, and full payment is made on that date through an automatic deduction from their designated bank account. When a customers’ income is steady, these payments are convenient, but when their income fluctuates, they can experience cash flow issues that make payment due dates burdensome. 

Request-to-pay is a type of electronic payment that addresses this issue, by giving customers flexibility in making payments. Once notified electronically of an upcoming payment due, the customer can decide on which date to make the payment, along with the payment amount. When a customer’s cash flow is strong, the customer may elect to make a payment prior to the due date and to pay the bill in full. When the customer is experiencing cash flow issues, however, the customer can choose a later payment date and a lesser payment amount, with the intent to “catch up” in the next billing cycle.  

Giving customers this kind of payment discretion and flexibility enables them to better manage their changing financial situations while avoiding default. At the same time, it ensures that service providers receive payments each billing cycle, even if the payment dates and amounts vary from cycle to cycle.  

Request-to-pay deployment considerations

For service providers interested in request-to-pay, here are some considerations to keep in mind as you evaluate market solutions:

  • Rapid deployment: Request-to-pay solutions are not complex. Find a solution that is easy and fast to implement. 
  • Electronic payment due notification: Make sure customers can be notified of an upcoming payment that’s due either via text or email. 
  • Security: Allow customers to pay securely without requiring a payment card (to avoid payment card industry (PCI) compliance issues) and without sharing their bank account details. 
  • Multiple payment options: Offer customers multiple payment options, including delayed payments and partial payments, with no additional transaction costs for multiple installments. 
  • Immediate payment: Enable money transfers to be made immediately to help customers with their cash flow control. 
  • Transaction costs: Ensure low transaction costs. For this type of payment, a minimal flat fee is often charged compared with the up to 4% of the transaction amount charged by conventional card payments. 
  • Scalability: Using robotic process automation, make sure your solution can connect to your back-end systems to process increasing payment volumes without the need for software upgrades. 

Bringing together our strengths in digital transformation, financial services and utilities, CGI has developed a request-to-pay solution with FinTech company Ordo. We see this as both a long-term, low-cost alternative to traditional card payments, as well as a rapid solution to meet today’s pressing economic challenges. Our solution enables retail businesses to respond not only to the immediate crisis, but also to begin reinventing ways of working.

Alleviating customer payment burdens while maintaining business cash flow is now possible. Contact me to learn more about the availability of this new solution with Ordo within the UK. If you’re outside the UK, contact Philip Skinner. To find out more about Ordo and open banking, visit cgi-group.co.uk/en-gb/solutions/cgi-and-ordo.

About this author

Alan Griffiths

Alan Griffiths

Vice President, Consulting

With more than 28 years of utilities experience, Alan serves as a consulting expert for CGI’s energy retail practice. He works with energy suppliers to identify opportunities for business transformation through the innovative use of technology across the energy retail value chain—from customer experience and ...

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