The need to avoid close social gatherings has compelled people to pay their utility bills from their smartphones
The pandemic has enabled mobile financial services (MFS) to take up the mantle of accepting utility bills, which was a tiresome chore before the outbreak, as people had to stand in long queues inside banks.
The need to avoid close social gatherings has compelled people to pay their utility bills from their smartphones.
One such person is Md Ali Khan, 65, who owns a five-storey building in the capital's Mirpur area. Before the pandemic, he had to stand in those queues for long hours once every month to pay his electricity, gas and water bills.
But the pandemic kept him inside his house. It was rather a blessing in disguise as he can now use his smartphone to access his preferred MFS and pay his utility bills at a convenient time, without having to visit banks, that too within limited working hours.
Countless others like Khan benefit from the digital service, which has connected several utility service providers under the network to pay bills sitting at home without any hassle.
MFS users can now pay electricity, gas, water and telephone bills, as well as services related to the city corporations.
According to Bangladesh Bank data, paying utility service bill through MFS began in September 2013, when the monthly payment was only about Tk 78 lakh.
But as of November last year, the figure stood at Tk 831 crore.
As per the central bank data, Tk 7,652 crore worth of utility bills using MFS was paid from January-November of 2020, which was a huge jump from Tk 5,023 crore during January-December of 2019.
During the pandemic, the payment skyrocketed as people chose contactless transactions. After the outbreak began in March, bill payment through MFS dropped to Tk 272 crore from Tk 433 crore in February.
But it sharply rose to Tk 598 crore in May and Tk 993 crore in June.
“Before the pandemic, it took me at least 1.5 hours to pay my utility bills, but now it only takes five minutes," said Md Delowar Hossain, from Farmgate in the capital.
Previously, there were also minor hassles such as banks unwilling to give change against round figures and demanding exact changes all the time.
“But in MFS that problem is nonexistent.”
The confines of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm banking hours are also unnecessary now as bills can be paid from any location, any time of the day, Hossain added.
People needed to find a smart way of paying their utility bills, as it was time-consuming and filled with complexities, said Shamsuddin Haider Dalim, head of corporate communications of bKash.
The pandemic just gave that push.
Currently, all the electricity bills including DESCO, DPDC, BPDB, NESCO, PalliBidyut and others can be paid through bKash.
Besides electricity, payment of other utility services like water, gas, internet, telephone is also possible through the platform that offers the largest Pay Bill platform to the customers, Dalim said.
To bring more customers on board, the MFS providers are making the process easier and innovative.
“Since Nagad's inception, we have been encouraging the bill payment process through our platform. That is why we did not charge any fee if anyone used Nagad to pay utility bills,” Tanvir A Mishuk, managing director of Nagad, an MFS of state-owned Bangladesh Post Office, told Dhaka Tribune.
To connect digital technology with the people, the bill payment process is a crucial tool in that aspect, he also said.
"Soon, new utility service providers will be integrated into our system, which will encourage more people to embrace cashless payments," Mishuk added.
Utility services providers also find it more convenient as they receive the payment easily and it does not need the involvement of many people, as was the case in the traditional system.
It gave great relief to customers that they could pay anytime, who previously faced difficulties in finding time to pay their utility bills, or had to stand in endless queues, said Md Kausar Ameer Ali, managing director of Dhaka Electric Supply Company.
"Since the system is automated, there is no chance of missing the bill payments, as it is directly recorded in our account. In addition, we can check any bill amount without any hassle through the server.”
On top of that, it also has helped the service providers to reduce corruption in bill collection.
Traditionally, in some cases it was noticed that bills were often collected through forged documents, keeping the authorities in the dark, while the customers claimed that they paid the said bills, according to Ali.
As there is no involvement of any third party, there is no scope for forgery, he added.