The Business Times
GreenPost is Singapore's only aggregator of electronic bills and
statements, presenting them on a single platform for the user's
convenience, reports TAN SHIHAO SEAN
E-BILLING is great. You save trees while you pay your bills, with the
mere click of your mouse. When more and more companies start to offer
e-billing services, you eagerly take them up, you love the thought of
doing your part for the environment, not to mention how convenient it
Then comes that one night, which finds you seated in front of the computer, all ready to settle your monthly bills. You soon begin to realise that what was once 'a mere click of the mouse' has become a tiresome labyrinth of portals and Web interfaces - a much more tedious process than before.
What you would have experienced, is what Harveen Narulla, director of GreenPost, calls 'multiple log-in fatigue', a phenomenon he feels is the main reason why many people are not going paperless with their bills.
'At a time when people are increasingly under pressure, dealing with work commitments, family commitments, and a shortage of time, they want technology to make their life easier, not harder,' he explains.
This is where GreenPost comes in. GreenPost is Singapore's only aggregator of electronic bills and statements, presenting them on a single platform for the user's convenience.
'Every biller wants to pull customers to their website to check bills. It takes a third party who's not a biller, to say 'Hey, I'll aggregate all your bills,' and that is what we are,' says Mr Narulla.
GreenPost currently aggregates bills from some of the highest volume billers in Singapore (M1, StarHub, SingTel, Singapore Power services, NUSS Alumni club), and plans to link up with all billers - not just the top volume ones - by 2012.
The company also aggregates bills from Malaysia (Maxis, Digi, TNB), and Australia (Optus), and intends to expand its presence in both. Plans for India, Hong Kong, and America are in the pipeline.
This will save upwards from two million pages of paper per month, a conservative estimate based on a function of user take- up rates, the average number of bills per person, and the average amount of paper used to mail a single bill.
'We will achieve these numbers with 125,000 users,' says Anand Singh, the founder and CEO of GreenPost, who pointed out that signing an agreement with any of the six banks they are currently in negotiations with would allow them to hit 400,000 users within six months. These six banks include OCBC, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, UOB, ICICI, and ANZ.
Under the pending agreements, users can choose to display the bill information aggregated by GreenPost within an Internet banking platform of his choice. This gives the user the convenience of having his bill information alongside the bank's existing payment service, making it much easier for him to make payments.
GreenPost is also in the process of negotiating commercial terms with the most common payment collection providers, which will enable users to pay their bills from the GreenPost portal itself.
Data analytics and a bill archive are also available, allowing users to keep track of their bill history from up to two years ago.
To top it off, all these benefits will be provided to users for no charge at all. So where does the money come from?
Former Bloomberg news anchor Bernie Low posed Mr Singh the same question in 2009, describing the company as a free service, an effort to save the trees. 'It's not a business model right?' asked an incredulous Mr Low. 'You're not a money making proposition.'
Mr Singh disagreed, describing three ways in which the company intends to make money, charging billers a portion of the cost savings GreenPost affords them through reduced paper costs, advertising revenue from intelligent ad banners (replacing the marketing pamphlets often sent together with bills), and charging a fee for payment collection.
Today, the business model has evolved to include two more - the accumulation of carbon credits from forest savings, and a paid curtain where users can pay to upgrade their accounts to include more in-depth bill data analytics and a larger archive.
Things weren't always smooth going though. The company struggled to attract initial investment due to the financial crisis in 2008 and a general wariness toward B2C (business-to-consumer) companies by investors in Singapore - something Mr Narulla attributes to the unique revenue cycle of a B2C company.
The revenue cycle of a B2C company 'is almost flat for a long while, hits an inflection point and then spikes', something Mr Narulla feels Singapore investors are relatively unfamiliar with, compared to the gradual growth curve of a traditional company.
To make matters worse, the original idea, incubated with the assistance of NUS in 2005, of linking up biller systems with the GreenPost platform was deemed unfeasible despite successful technical integration due to cost, says Mr Narulla.
'Integration by connecting directly with biller systems, and pulling data from biller customer management systems is a very expensive exercise,' he explains, referring to the pilot tests done with the support of a dedicated engineering team from StarHub.
However, with the aid of a co-investment from Spring Singapore and a round of private angel funding, the team managed to reconceptualise the product to draw the data from the biller's portals, which avoids the hugely expensive integration challenges the company had faced before.
From then on, the company launched its beta platform in September 2009 and launched commercially in March 2010.
It has since developed mobile apps for the iPhone and iPad in June and August of 2010 respectively, with plans to release an Android app in May 2011, making it the first bill aggregator in the world to incorporate a mobile platform.
GreenPost was also selected as technology partner by CrimsonLogic for its bid for the Singapore government's OneInBox tender, which, if successful, would see them aggregating all Government-to-Citizen correspondence.
Mr Narulla hopes to be supporting the top 20 billers in Singapore, India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Australia by the end of 2012, and to fully commercialise three of these countries in a three to five year time-frame.
Says Mr Narulla, 'We believe that we are doing something that could change the shape of the world. It could lead to hundreds of thousands of trees still standing.
'If people's mindsets and attitudes don't change, the last tree will fall one day. But if through our lives, work, and involvement we can delay that by even 20 to 50 years, we will have done our job.'