Nine out of 10 internet users who took part in a survey on electronic billing would prefer to receive their bills online rather than via traditional snail mail.

Of the companies and individuals quizzed in the poll, 76% would prefer to receive their bills via e-mail, while 17% would prefer to access their bills on a website. This is in direct contrast to US behaviour, where most internet users prefer to access bills on the websites of their billers or to receive a consolidated set of bills on the banking websites.

The survey results were hardly surprising, since the people polled were already experienced internet users accustomed to doing business online. The participants included 586 individuals and 200 companies with access to the internet, and covered issues affecting the fledgling electronic bill payment and presentment industry.

Arthur Goldstuck, MD of the research house World Wide Worx, said it was interesting to see how local conditions affected technology take-up.

"Because of slow access speeds in this country, South Africans are looking for solutions that don’t keep them waiting for web pages to download. Rather than wait unproductively for the details of every account to arrive on their screens, they would prefer to see bills arrive in their e-mail, where they can peruse them in their own time."

More than half the companies surveyed had no plans for introducing ebilling systems, but a third had already installed the technology or were in the process of doing so. A quarter had no idea how their efforts stacked up against the competition, while 6% felt they were way ahead and 15% slightly ahead. About 11% admitted they were lagging way behind in switching to electronic billing.

The main reason prompting companies to bypass the postal service was the sheer speed of e-billing, which brought in their payments faster. Improved customer service and the lower costs of electronic billing were other motivating factors.

Those implications could be bad news for the SA Post Office, unless it became an e-billing provider itself, said Goldstuck. Only 7% of respondents preferred traditional post for receiving their bills.

The survey showed a slight variation in the types of bills that users would want to receive online. Customers of retail chains saw e-mail as the ideal delivery method for their bills, but when it came to the more traditional areas of banking and insurance, there was still quite a high demand for traditional mail, said Goldstuck.

Business Day