Baltimore’s Mobile Bill Pay Serves Millennials, Underserved Populations

The city of Baltimore is doing what it can to cater to its constituents' tech preferences. In December, the city made available a mobile online website for residents to pay city parking and water bills -- something that caters to not only millennials, but also the city's underserved populations.

This mobile bill pay service, which took six months to develop, was on the municipality’s wish list for three years. The city was unable to reach a solution with its payment gateway provider, so it instead came to an agreement with Global Express, a service that citizens were already using to make in-person payments via walkup bill-pay kiosks, to allow for mobile bill pay and modification of the city’s existing agreement.

“We’re just trying to meet the customers where they are,” said Janice J. Simmons, chief at the city’s bureau of revenue collections. “Millennials like to do things with their phones. By 2016, more people will be paying bills from their smartphones than their desktops.”

The service, which does not require a downloaded application, is a website optimized for any mobile device. The city also created a QR code that, once scanned, sends the constituent to the bill pay website. Through that site, the city can validate the individual’s account number, and it receives confirmation that a bill is paid.

“People hate to come downtown to pay a bill,” said Simmons. “And they often don’t have stamps. This new model creates ease and efficiency for the customer. They can get the bill paid without the hassle associated with it.”

The mobile bill pay option, which accepts payments up to $600, is also creating more access for underserved populations who may not be able to afford a computer, but are using a smartphone.

“Most underserved populations use smartphones as their means of connecting to the Internet,” said Joseph Carella, a member of the city’s IT team.

In addition to this model being a bonus for taxpayers, it also reduces overhead for both the city and payee. The more constituents who pay via Global Express, the lower the city’s transaction costs. Though there are no direct costs associated with launching the service or hosting it, citizens paying from their mobile phones pay a flat $2.5 convenience fee. If citizens pay their bill through the city’s website — which uses a different merchant provider — they are charged a convenience fee of 2.75 percent. For most, the mobile option is more affordable.

Since the launch, the city has collected from $116 to $2,700 per day for water bills and parking citations. There have been four to 16 parking transactions each day, and one to 13 water transactions each day.

Now that the city is confident in the service’s capabilities, it’s moving to more heavy advertise the mobile bill pay feature. All customers will soon receive an announcement about the service with the QR code.

As more customers use this service, the city anticipates that error rates should decrease since numbers are not being keyed.

“Now, the labor is on the part of the taxpayer,” Carella said. “They have every incentive to get it right and confirm before they hit submit.”

Identification numbers are entered twice, then the website validates its accuracy. Customers input all their data, and the transactions are available to the city the next day.

As citizens become more accustomed to using the mobile bill pay option, the city is exploring other billing options.

“The city has more than 100 different bill types,” Simmons said. “We’d like to add more bill categories. We’d like a person to pay a property tax, but the maximum is $600 and the average property tax is $1,500.”

Another addition it plans on making directly to its water billing system is to send mobile reminders to customers on the anniversary of the billing date each month. Customers simply have to select “yes” to pay their bill.

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