Austin GDC 07: Interview with Bill2Phone

by K. Samwell on September 11, 2007 in Trade Shows

If you don’t have a credit card, chances are you know how arduous attempting to make an online purchase can be. Bill2Phone caters to people like you, and also those who simply don’t want to use their credit cards online. We sit down with the Bill2Phone team to better understand what their services offer and how they work.

Page 1 – Introduction

I’m here with Sharon Gallardo; Marketing Manager, Scott Chapman; Business Development Manager, and Ann Dow; Senior Product Manager from BSG Clearing Solutions.

In March 2007, BSG launched a new alternative payment solution that lets players charge gaming and digital media purchases to their landline phone bill, called Bill2Phone.

Kiersten: Can you please tell our readers about current Bill2Phone services?

Ann: The current service that Bill2Phone offers is to give end users like the game players out there the ability to pay for digital content like game downloads and subscriptions and charge it to their home telephone bill. We think this is a great option for a variety of reasons, not all online users actually have credit cards, and those that do, some do not actually want to use their credit card online. It gives them extra payment options so there can be more transactions and more revenue for the game developers.

Kiersten: I believe your website quoted something along the lines of 40% of people online don’t have a credit card, and 70% who don’t want to use their credit card online.

Ann: There’s been a lot of studies done, and what they’ve found is (and maybe gamers might be among the percentage that are a little more comfortable) is generally people that haven’t been online for very many years tend to be more leery and depending on the age demographic, people are extremely hesitant to use their credit cards online.

Scott: One of the big fits I see with the gaming community is casual gaming. As I’m sure you’re probably familiar, casual gamers are typically female, and typically older females and I feel like it’s a very good fit for that segment because a lot of fraud concerns affect the older generation, the baby boomers, and having the option to have to write one less bill, or to place their credit card online, I think it’s a really big advantage.

It’s just getting those one-off people. Even if it’s only 5% of revenue on someone’s base, we’re not thinking this is going to dominate or take over credit cards by any means, but it’s just that extra revenue that you’d normally not see that can be rather valuable. Especially for a lot of these start up guys.

Ann: And some of the statistics that we were talking about, of people who don’t want to use their credit card online, falls smack dab in the middle of the casual gamer demographic. It’s the women who have plenty of disposable income, love to play, will play, will pay, can pay, but don’t necessarily feel comfortable putting their credit card data out there.

Kiersten: Right now we’re mostly talking about online games. I’ve noticed you can buy practically anything from iTunes to dating services online with Bill2Phone, what other markets are you looking to break into, or are in for that matter.

Scott: Any kind of subscription base. Music is obviously a big one, video is another big one that I think you’re going to see more and more of, as a lot of these big entertainment companies are doing more of a premium subscription model rather than just a YouTube type, but really premium television.

Ann: Any type of subscription online, if it’s a subscription to a publication that you can get online, really anything that’s digital and content or related to digital content, is fair game.

Kiersten: But you’re not limiting yourself to subscriptions, for example if I want to buy an in game item in Second Life I could use Bill2Phone.

Ann: Exactly yes.

Kiersten: What about game companies that don’t allow the sale of accounts or in game digital property for cash value. For example, I want to sell you a t-shirt in Second Life but Second Life says ‘we don’t allow that’ how are you working with these companies to prevent that?

Scott: Well it would be on the merchant’s side, whether they want to allow it. Think of it as just like a credit card process. If they’re going to block that being purchased on the credit card side, same thing applies with us. The way it is presented to the consumer is exactly the same way it would be presented for a credit card.

Kiersten: Now obviously, what telephone companies are you working with right now?

Ann: All the big ones! And we actually have access to 1400 local exchange carriers. Some people don’t know there’s that many but there are. Most of us know the big four or five, and with all the consolidation they’ve had it’s more like the big two really, but we have access to 1400, and all the big ones.

Kiersten: Obviously we were talking about security here earlier, what security protocols are in place to prevent hijacking another person’s phone information and using it for Bill2Phone.

Ann: I am so glad you asked that question. I had so much fun when we put this project together. We’ve actually been in the phone billing space for twenty years place, and hijacking people’s phone numbers to try to put charges on them is not new and it’s not solely limited to the gaming space, or even the online space. We have learned a lot in the last twenty years, in the things to watch.

With Bill2Phone we went one step further. Since you are buying online we wouldn’t want for example for me to go online to play my game and I know Sharon, I know her phone number so I might put that in, but what I don’t know about Sharon is some private things. For example, while I may know her birthday, I don’t know the last four digits of her social security number.

And so we have to tie together several different types of information, a phone number for example, the information attached to a phone number needs to match the name of the person, that needs to match the last four of the social security number which also needs to match their date of birth, and we meld all that together from several different sources and do some cross checks and it’s a pretty secure way to make sure that it is me, or it is Sharon.

Scott: And all that is happening in real time.

Ann: It only takes a couple of API calls that’s designed to be very similar to the credit card process, so the merchant doesn’t have to do anything special, big or different.

Kiersten: So what if I move and have to change my phone number, how complicated is the transition when I have recurring or pending payments.

Ann: That’s a good question too. What will happen if you have for example, a recurring payment, is when we try to put through the next payment and you no longer have that phone number, if you have not already proactively notified the merchant that your phone number has changed then the merchant will get a notice that the phone number is no longer going to work. So what they’re going to do is come back to you and ask for some fresh information. Then they’ll run that back through, we’ll get it set and off you go!

Kiersten: Same goes for pending payments?

Ann: For pending payments, because it’s done in real time and we submit transactions on a daily basis, so everything you do today gets bundled up and sent off today, so the chance of you closing out your bill and it being gone before you get your bill is very very slim, so we really haven’t seen that as an issue.

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