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commsecure press release

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    Hornsby Shire Council Opens Online Bill Presentment and Payment Channel with Westpac and CommSecure
    04 April 2003

    Hornsby Shire Council increases customer convenience with online rates viewing and payments
    Cuts costs involved in issuing rate notices and receiving payments by up to $70k pa
    Rapid implementation timetable with no IT integration issues
    Hornsby Shire Council in Sydney's north is well known for its rich mix of urban, rural and bushland environments and stunning waterways. It also boasts the nation's highest concentration of Internet users and recently became one of the first local councils to let ratepayers view rate notices and make payments online.

    Working with Westpac Banking Corporation and the Bank's technology partner, CommSecure Limited, the Council has implemented a fully integrated bill presentment and payment strategy. The Council website has been upgraded so that its 52,000 ratepayers can now view and pay their bills online. Residents can also see copies of their rate notices and settle payments from within their regular Internet banking websites using BPAY View.

    BPAY View is the revolutionary new service from BPAY, the nation's most popular phone and Internet payments service backed by all the major banks. For some time, consumers have been able to cite BPAY numbers on bills when making payments by phone or online. BPAY View takes this a step further by letting bill recipients see copies of outstanding bills - from within the BPAY View section of their banking website then make payments via the normal BPAY payment methods.

    Utilising CommSecure's technology, Hornsby Council now provides ratepayers with the opportunity to view their bills on-line at the Council web site,, as well as the wider BPAY View system. This is a convenient new payment option for ratepayers and also streamlines the Council's receivables processes, enabling it reduce billing and payments costs.

    Analysis by Westpac shows that if only 20 per cent of ratepayers switched to paying rates via the Internet, Hornsby is expected to save $70,000 a year by 2005. This will be achieved by reducing the average cost of producing and distributing rates notices from 71c today to 58c and by cutting the average cost of receiving payments from $2.21 today to $1.74.

    "For us, 20 per cent of ratepayers would be about 10,000 people. Ten thousand times 71 cents adds up to a lot of money so the savings we make will be significant," says Ken Burchell, Manager of Financial Services at Hornsby Council.

    As well as cutting down on the amount of paper the Council must handle, Internet payments will also allow Hornsby to simplify its transaction processes and consolidate payment-related data sources.

    Details of payments made via BPAY View are provided to the Council on its regular bank statement from Westpac or, where a resident pays via credit card, via a data file supplied by CommSecure.

    Internet payments also reduce the number of 'middle men' involved in any transaction, reducing fees and effectively devolve data entry to the end ratepayer.

    "One benefit is that there is no middle man. With phone banking, for instance, we use a call centre agency to take the payments so that involves a fee as well," says Barry Gill from Hornsby's Financial Services group.

    For Westpac, BPAY View is part of a wider new transactional vision' where customers use the latest technologies to improve efficiency. The bank has been a strong supporter of BPAY and now the Internet. This is demonstrated by the fact that BPAY billers that use Westpac for BPAY services today account for 41 per cent of all BPAY transactions.

    "BPAY View is a win-win for the bank and our customer because it improves convenience and reduces costs on all sides," says Jason McClintock, Senior Product Manager at Westpac.

    Hornsby Council decided to go ahead with the Online Payments service in December 2002 and the system was operational by the end of January 2003. It was implemented by Westpac's partner CommSecure, which specialises in electronic bill presentment and payment solutions, in conjunction with the Council's Financial Services team.

    "All in all it went very smoothly," comments Michael Crea, Rates Supervisor at Hornsby. "CommSecure was very professional and very, very good. They couldn't do enough to help us and they walked us through the process. They also came out and instructed staff in how to use the new system."

    Making the process simple is the fact that there was no IT integration required between the new online payment mechanism and the Council's GEAC financial platform. The only IT work for the Council was to design new pages for the Payments section of its website.

    "We didn't need to do anything to change our financial systems and software," says Crea.

    The new system was an immediate hit with ratepayers. In the first four weeks of the Council offering the service over 700 payments were made, making the Financial Services team confident that they had taken the right step.

    Hornsby is now using its rate notice mail-outs and other communications strategies to inform residents about the new service and to allay any potential concerns. Some residents asked whether their paper-based rate notices would be discontinued if they registered for BPAY View.

    In Hornsby's case, the Council will continue to distribute paper-based notices to all ratepayers even if they register for Internet payments. However, it is following the development of new protocols that may enable it to provide only electronic notices to residents that request it. This follows requests from some organisations, such as the NSW Department of Housing, which manages numerous properties in the Shire, to receive all notices electronically.

    Another question Hornsby faced was whether to accept credit card payments via the new Internet payments channel. While these carry higher transaction fees than the other three options - BPAY, direct debit and user-initiated direct debit, the Council took the view that it should maximise the convenience of the service to ensure widespread take-up.

    "We just didn't think we were going to get the take up that we wanted to achieve if we didn't offer credit cards," explains Ken Burchell.

    The introduction of BPAY View by local councils such as Hornsby will add to the critical mass developing around Internet banking, BPAY and now BPAY View. There are already more than 5 million people registered for Internet banking services in Australia and of the 7.2 million BPAY payments made in August 2002, for example, some 4 million were made via the Internet. These transactions represent billions of dollars and the momentum can be expected to continue building as the banks, large billers such as Telstra and councils getting behind the electronic billing.
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