Alltel Corp. (ATNI), the wireless carrier that will soon be owned by AT&T Inc. (T), signed a deal with Silicon Valley startup Check Inc. to let its 600,000 customers pay their bills with a smartphone.
Check, formerly Pageonce, lets users of Apple Inc. iPhones and Google Inc. Android devices pay bills with a few taps. The Alltel deal is the first business partnership for Check, and others are in the pipeline with gas, electric, garbage and water utilities, said Steve Schultz, chief operating officer at the Palo Alto, California-based company.
“Businesses are looking for a way to mobilize, and they’re a bit behind,” said Schultz, the former head of Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO)’s finance site, in an interview. “We’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting.”
Check is part of a crowded field of startups seeking to help companies simplify the payment process. Square Inc. has gained the most traction through its combination of hardware and software, while WePay Inc. and Stripe Inc. make it easy for businesses to accept payments online. BillFloat Inc. works with billers to provide short-term loans for customers who need more time to pay.
Check has more than 8 million registered members, who use the free application to upload bank account information and track recurring bills and investments. In some cases, businesses are asking to form partnerships with Check because they already have thousands of customers using the app, Schultz said.
Alltel, which currently is owned by Atlantic Tele-Network Inc., will promote Check’s program as a download option for customers. In January, AT&T agreed to buy spectrum and subscribers from Atlantic Tele-Network for $780 million and said it expects the deal to close in the second half of 2013.
While Check has swiftly added users since introducing the app in 2008, the company has experimented with multiple business models. In 2011, it began charging users $5 a month for the bill-payment function, before abandoning that in favor of a model that charged 30 cents per bill. The company then dropped the fee altogether.
“Payments require scale and we felt that Check needed a free option to grow rapidly,” Schultz said.
Pageonce changed its name to Check last month and said it’s processing more than $1.5 million in bill payments per day. Mary Meeker, the former Morgan Stanley analyst who’s now a partner at venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, highlighted Check as an emerging financial-services company in her 2013 Internet Trends report last week.
By working with other billers, Check will receive a commission whenever customers pay with the app, Schultz said. The company also makes money by providing targeted offers to consumers for credit cards, mortgages and savings accounts.
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