Crypto and utility bills: from mysterious to mainstream

By Sara Faied
Now's the time for utility companies yet to address digital payments to take the plunge – and crypto is one option, writes InvoiceCloud's Sara Faied.

Digital payments are no longer a welcome convenience. They are a fundamental necessity; a competitive differentiator that reduces payment complexity, creates peace of mind for customers, and speeds up collections. And yet water, electricity and gas providers continue to lag behind other industries in engaging customers in the digital realm. Growing competitive, regulatory and stakeholder pressures are increasing demand for utility providers to prioritise customer experience in ways they never have before.

A survey by PwC ranked technology and adapting to changing customer expectations around issues like bill payment methods as two of the top four areas for improvement among utility providers. Companies that prioritise experience by providing optimised omnichannel payment options, self-service routes like automatic payments and paperless billing, and automated communications via email and text messaging are raising the user experience bar across providers.

Now is the time for utility companies that have yet to address digital payments. In 2020, digital wallet adoption rose globally to 55%, and industry experts predict it will reach 75% by 2025. Also on the rise is a demand for expanded payment options, critical for achieving the accessibility and convenience people increasingly expect in every area of their lives.

In addition to improving customer experience, modernising collections processes streamlines the payments process for utility workers, leading to higher employee satisfaction rates across all kinds of organisations. Some benefits include less employee burnout, increased on-time payments, and a path to more efficient and profitable organisations. According to the US Bureau of Labor’s latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover report, utilities ranked among the highest for increases in job openings, meaning there are fewer people to handle billing-related customer calls and in-person visits.

Utilities that drive payers to use digital solutions will not suffer the sting of a smaller workforce since digital channels and self-service options are key to freeing employees of time-consuming manual tasks. Rather than chasing down late payments or fielding countless customer calls, digital payments act as a force multiplier, enabling employees to spend time on high-priority projects, boosting overall output, organisational efficiency and employee morale.

Delivering digital payments options

Optimising revenue is a priority for any organisation, and access to expanded payment channels proves a viable approach for success. Proprietary customer data suggests that more options reap more benefits, and utility billers that offer a robust electronic billing and payment platform (EBPP) confirm this. Still, the effectiveness of an EBPP platform should be measured in terms of how well it drives customers to self-service. Engaging platforms will move more customers to serve themselves by making online payments, utilising paperless billing, and other options. Self-service routes create time and cost efficiencies, but the real key lies in the rate of adoption and an understanding of what moves customers to adopt online payments.

These include:

  • Do customers have to jump through hoops to pay or see their bills?  
  • Is it easy for customers to make an online or mobile payment?  
  • Can customers quickly and simply enroll in paperless billing or bill pay reminders?   
  • Are customers engaged at every available contact point?
  • What options are customers given to pay their bills? 

Digital payments are already massively popular in the United States – over 80% of Americans made a digital payment in 2021, according to McKinsey. Online payments adoption and self-service rely heavily on the ability to offer flexible payment options. Our research shows that most payers’ preferred channels include online payment portals (43%) and mobile devices (35%). But there’s a new payment option, and early adoption shows significant promise: cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrency and customer experience

Cryptocurrency is at the forefront of today’s fintech trends and is becoming more popular for paying bills. Notably, new research finds that a surprising number of people – 36% – would accept part or all of their paycheck in cryptocurrency, clearly drawing a line between a growing curiosity and actually utilising the digital currency.

Billers, including utility companies, are adopting crypto to expand their commitment to offering convenient and engaging payment options. This is good news for utilities that strive to improve efficiency and productivity, lower costs, and remove friction from payment processes. Despite existing challenges, delivering an exceptional customer experience is still paramount and cannot be overlooked.

If you ask your parents or grandparents to explain cryptocurrency, it’s unlikely they’ll articulate an accurate response. The concept is still relatively new and often confused with technology; crypto is currency supported by technology to facilitate instant payments. But it won’t be long before the term is more widely understood as more and more billers are allowing customers to sell cryptocurrency for fiat money (government-backed funds, like the US dollar) that can be used to pay outstanding debts and bills.

Utility companies are increasingly offering cryptocurrency as a viable option for paying monthly bills. City leaders explain that embracing virtual currency gives residents more ways to pay their bills, raise funds, create excitement, and increase trust in digital formats. Customer experience is still king, and as digital currency and blockchain advance, billers at the forefront of this technology will differentiate themselves from the competition.

Regardless of the payment method, customer data shows that options are appreciated, and providers stand to gain critical benefits by enabling their customers with the convenience they crave. For utility organisations, increasing self-service options leads to:

  • Fewer in-person customer visits  
  • More consistent, on-time collections 
  • Decreased organisational costs 
  • Fewer service shutoffs 
  • Reduced call volumes 
  • Higher customer satisfaction rates

The demands and expectations of today’s utility customers are ever-evolving, especially regarding how they receive bills and pay for services. To keep pace and reap the benefits of increased electronic payment adoption, utility providers must expand user-friendly payment experiences designed to improve conversion rates. Further, delivering innovative options like crypto highlights those forward-thinking cities looking for ways to distinguish themselves and, by default, are demonstrating their leadership at the forefront of new technologies.

About the author: Sara Faied is VP Processing Transformation at InvoiceCloud, a Massachusetts-based online payment solutions provider. With 15+ years of payment experience, she has a proven track record of implementing new technologies and developing new processes.


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