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Anthrax anxieties push bill payers online

The threat of bioterrorism has made the Net a much more attractive medium for paying bills and checking account balances in the U.S.

By Wendy McAuliffe

Mail safety concerns raised by recent anthrax scares have prompted a 20 percent increase in the number of Americans viewing and paying bills electronically, according to analyst firm Gartner.

The threat of bioterrorism has made the Internet a much more attractive medium for paying bills and checking account balances in America.

A Gartner report released on Monday predicts that by the end of 2001, 32 million Americans will be viewing credit card and other statements online--a 60 percent increase from the 20 million who did so at the end of 2000. A 20 percent increase in e-billing registration has already been observed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

"There were already a lot of efforts in the e-billing market, but the anthrax scare was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Avivah Litan, vice president of financial services at Gartner. "It forced companies to definitely sign up, as it was a more attractive option than clearing out their mailboxes. But you can't get rid of the anthrax problem without getting rid of all mail."

Credit card management is the most successful sector of the e-billing market, and Gartner predicts that almost 27 million U.S. consumers will be viewing their credit card statements online by the end of the year. This is expected to reach 64 million by the end of 2003.

"E-billing for anything other than credit cards has been abysmal--consumers are interested in managing their accounts on a daily basis with credit cards, as it then becomes an account management process," said Litan.

The United Kingdom is on the same growth curve as the United States for e-billing, and is ahead of America in terms of online payment. But according to Gartner, Britain is a year and a half behind the United States with the online viewing of bills, owing to higher Internet connectivity costs.

Staff writer Wendy McAuliffe reported from London.