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See you at the 7-Eleven with my water bill

When we talk about billing issues, we usually discuss all the new and shiny high-tech ways customers can pay their utility—from online widgets to mobile phone apps. But there is still a large portion of the population that loves low tech and wants to walk in cash. As mobile apps become more prevalent, however, face-to-face locations to pay utility bills have begun to close more rapidly. So, what’s a utility to do to make those cash-carrying customers happy? Well, how about a partnership with a place almost everyone goes regularly? Perhaps a retail outlet or a convenience store? A number of utilities are looking into just that, including the City of Fairfield, California.

Fairfield is a bit of a halfway point between San Francisco and Sacramento on a California map. It has an air force base, a Jelly Belly factory and about 108,000 people. They also have a convenient City of Fairfield website that will, among other things, tell you library information and traffic conditions. The website also has a “how do I?” tab that gives information on the process to pay for various city services, including the water bill for those 108,000 people.

Under the “cash only payments” listing for the water bill, it reads: “All Fairfield 7-Eleven Stores. Take bills with printed barcode to 7-Eleven stores in Fairfield to make a CASH PAYMENT. Please Note: You must have the physical bill--a convenience fee will be added to the bill by 7-Eleven.”

So, how did this partnership between 7-Eleven and the city come about? Was it magic like in a Disney movie? Did someone save the day like in the old Western serials set in California? Well, sort of—because it started with a problem, a big problem: the state budget crisis.

The California state budget crisis officially began in 2008 when the state faced a budget gap of $11 billion and ended in 2012, according to media stories and looks back. (2013’s budget had a small surplus.) One of the stopgap measures to help budget crisis issues (which trickled down to local city governments) were furlough programs. Fairfield adopted one as well, which closed all city offices every Friday, according to Wade Brown, financial services manager with the city.

The same budget issues also closed Fairfield’s “City Hall at the Mall” office in a local shopping mall that was open seven days a week.

“These changes, along with the facts that we have a large cash payment clientele and that our utility bills are due on Mondays, made it critical that we provide a solution that helped meet the customer’s need and reduced the lines at our customer service window,” Brown said.

So, Fairfield needed a spot to drop off cash payments that was open weekends and late nights and wasn’t restrictive to an 8-5 business schedule. Convenience stores seemed like the perfect solution and now, through a partnership that brings in PayNearMe (a company that has an established cash transaction network with 7-Eleven) and InfoSend (the billing provider for Fairfield), it’s a valuable option to cash customers. (The city estimates that over five percent of their customers paid their bills in cash through this partnership in 2012.)

And, this partnership isn’t restricted to Fairfield. California cities Glendale,  Santa Rosa, Tracy and the Padre Dam Municipal Water District are also using this partnership to give cash customers the ability to pay water bills at local 7-Elevens.

Besides that note on the city’s website, Fairfield gets the word out about this option through info printed on the bill itself and posters around town. (The first time they offered this option, they included inserts in the utility bill for a number of months, according to Brown.)

The results for Fairfield have been shorter lines on Mondays at city hall and a lot of contentment—except with the fee. (As the website listing notes, there is a fee added to the transaction.)

Brown added, “Overall, customers that need to make cash payments are very happy that we were able to provide a solution.”
As we move faster toward electronic billing solutions, we can’t forget those segments of the population who have cash in hand and want to give it to you. You just have to provide them options.


Kathleen Wolf Davis's picture

Thank Kathleen for the Post!

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