OTTAWA – Canada Post moved last month to gain a vital foothold in the electronic payments market before six of Canada’s largest financial institutions move into that arena next spring.
It has spent $50 million over three years developing an Internet-based system – Electronic Post Office – that offers consumers an alternative to paying their bills through the mail.
EPO will also allow consumers to send and receive any kind of electronic document from advertising flyers to confidential memos through a free personal mailbox on the Web, a plus over the banks’ E-route Inc., which is limited to paying bills.
E-route Inc. is owned by Canada Trust, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Mouvement des caisses Desjardins, National Bank of Canada and TD Bank Financial Group and has begun building a system called Interac II.
Scheduled to launch next spring, the system has signed several of the country’s largest billers, including Bell Canada and Royal Bank Visa. “It’s one-stop shopping for electronic bills,” E-route CEO Bryan Kerdman said.
With bills accounting for nearly half of total letter mail delivery, the stakes are high for Canada Post. Bill Robertson, general manager, electronic services, admits electronic billing systems have never “been done on this scale before.”But the crown corporation believes it has an advantage over the banks because its system is more versatile.
Industry observers point out the two service providers bring inherent strengths and weaknesses to the development process. E-route, due to its connection to the banks, has an advantage on the payment processing side. Canada Post has decades of experience in document delivery.
As usual with any new electronic system that sends, receives and stores data, privacy issues have been raised. Both Canada Post and E-route have said the billing information they collect will not be used for marketing campaigns or resold to third parties.
But questions remain as to what would happen if Revenue Canada, for instance, came knocking with a court order.
Canada Post, under the authority of the Canada Post Corporation Act, has historically had a strong record of protecting customer privacy. It says it can’t see any reason why that should change in the electronic world.