How ACI rapidly put Western Union's tech to work in the coronavirus pandemic

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When ACI Worldwide acquired mobile and bill payment technology from Western Union last year, it couldn't have predicted an environment in which consumers would be handling nearly all of their finances from home.

But the financial challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic are making that technology more crucial than ever.

The products that attracted ACI to negotiate with Western Union in the first place — the Walletron mobile wallet and the Speedpay bill payment system — have allowed ACI to launch the Delay My Payment and Manage My Payment features for billers after just three weeks of intense development.

The new features allow ACI biller clients — banks, finance and mortgage lenders, consumer lenders, utility companies, student loan companies and even the IRS — to offer flexibility to cash-strapped consumers. They can delay a customer's current payment or reconfigure an entire payment calendar for all channels within the company.

"It's a simple way to communicate between the end consumer and the biller, and it also helps the call centers, which are overwhelmed at this time because of coronavirus," said Sanjay Gupta, executive vice president at ACI Worldwide. "Taking that further, it allows the consumer to look at options to restructure their payments, maybe adjusting to three installments instead of one."

It's all handled through an online or mobile portal in which a consumer can see if they qualify for these changes in the payment schedule. The biller can receive payments from the online portal, an email or a text.

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"For a recurring biller, the bill is the brand," said Richard Crone, chief executive of San Carlos, Calif.-based payments consulting firm Crone Consulting LLC. "That interface is more important to a recurring biller than even to an e-commerce merchant because it is the only brandable interface they have."

Generally, those types of companies, whether a financing company or utility, don't view billing as a strategic process in which to engage the customer, Crone added. In that regard, ACI is developing a process that has long been needed for billers.

"Consumers have been crying out for different options from these recurring billers, even before coronavirus," Crone said.

In some ways, ACI's new payment management options are akin to companies like Affirm or Swift's Pay Later API. These allow banks to offer merchants the option to provide payment terms and money advancements at checkout.

"So many creative things could be pumped right in front of a recurring payment application, which is the second most important application to a household, only behind sustenance and housing," Crone added.

The new services empower billers to respond more quickly to consumers' potentially desperate needs for more flexible payment plans because of job loss or financial portfolio damage.

"Nobody knew about the upcoming crisis, so this is something we truly rallied around in the last few weeks," ACI's Gupta said. "We saw things getting difficult in March, so we put together a 'SWAT team' to really think about user needs or the user journey to determine what we could do for them."

The services are not designed to wow; adding "a bunch of bells and whistles" would have taken months to develop, Gupta added.

"That was not the need of the hour, and we knew we had to come up with something that is user friendly, simple and that we could launch it quickly," he said.

Because many ACI clients are financial institutions, the service also gives banks the opportunity to react quickly to consumer needs at a time when mobile money and wallet providers see an opportunity to fill that void.

"Banks are the No. 1 recurring biller in the economy, starting with credit cards and following with mortgages," Crone said. "They command more recurring payments than anyone else."

As such, banks need to be mobilized to keep moving forward as capabilities and technology advance for billers and direct billing, Crone added. "Not enough of the banks have the functionalities that consumers are expecting. For ACI and others, this is a chance to not only address a current market need, but also a national need."

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