Adam Turner June 04, 2012
Paying bills and storing documents online is not exactly something new.
If you're looking for business models threatened by new technology it's hard to go past Australia Post. In theory the internet should kill traditional mail services stone dead, but of course that's never going to happen. That because Australia Post doesn't just shift around pieces of paper, it also shifts parcels that can't (yet) be broken into ones and zeros. You could actually argue that internet shopping is a shot in the arm for Australia Post.
To be fair to Australia Post, it hasn't stuck its head in the sand when it comes to new technology. It established POST BillPay way back in 2000, letting Australians receive bills electronically and pay online. POST BillPay succeeded while dot-com startups such as e-Bill and AllMyBills went to the wall. About the only serious contender to survive was BPAY, which had the backing of the banks. Both POST BillPay and BPAY have taken off, although I suspect BPAY has the upper hand. The strength of BPAY is that you can access it via your internet banking portal, rather than creating yet another online account.
So for the last decade you've been able to receive and pay pretty much any Australian bill electronically, via POST BillPay or BPAY. Problem solved, right? Apparently not, because now there's a new rush to offer us "digital mailboxes". Australia Post has partnered up with Telstra to offer Digital MailBox, but they're fighting off newcomers such as Digital Post Australia. Both are free services, with the bill providers covering the cost from the money they're saving on postage. The bill providers might also have the chance to present us with advertising, the same way they cram in junk with our paper bills.
So what's a digital mailbox? In short it's an electronic bill delivery platform combined with a secure document folder. It's hosted in the cloud and accessible via browser or smartphone/tablet app. You can receive your paper bills electronically in your Digital MailBox, set reminders and pay them electronically. You can also store your own documents in your Digital MailBox, which are supposedly protected by "bank grade security". By leveraging "Telstra’s trusted brand", Australia Post says it's so secure you can use your Digital MailBox to store copies of your passport and tax records.
Doesn't this all sound a bit familiar? Securely storing your own files seems to be the only difference between Australia Post's Digital MailBox and existing services such as POST BillPay and BPAY View. A Digital Mailbox is not a substitute for a street address or PO Box -- Australia Post isn't going to open your paper mail, scan it and send it to you. It's not a workaround for the fact that many services won't send parcels to PO Boxes. It's not a secure alternative to email for contacting people. It's simply a way to view and pay bills electronically (which we already have) combined with a way to securely store documents (which we already have) . There are plenty of cloud-based document storage services around offering "bank grade security".
To me this looks like two old world communications giants teaming together in an effort to stay relevant. I've lost track of how many times we've heard similar stories over the last 15 years. Every "trusted name" from Microsoft to Facebook wants to be central point of contact and de facto passport in the digital world. I've got nothing against companies launching new services, but it does frustrate me when old world players reinvent the wheel and try to dress it up as something new.
Rather than replicating existing services such as POST BillPay and BPAY, what new services and features would you like to see Australia Post's Digital MailBox offer?