A Personal Look at Online Bill Pay
My twin sister Alexandra and I are the most contrary twins you'll ever meet. When we were growing up, everyone called us Alex and Andy, and since she was the more lady-like of the two of us, those nicknames always gave her fits. Alexandra hated the idea that someone might mistake her for a boy!
It never bothered me. I was a tomboy anyway. If there was a tea party with all our stuffed animals, you could bet it would be Alex at the head of the table. And if there were five or six neighborhood kids in the back yard playing kickball, you knew I'd be on first base.
Whenever anything got broken, Alex would come to me to get it fixed. And when it came time to get dressed for church, I'd let Alex pick out my outfit. Not that we didn't have our share of fights as well, but I'd say there were some things that we both just recognized the other was better at.
Those things didn't change a whole lot as we got older. We just found more of them. When we were in college and the internet became widely available, I jumped right on board and started communicating almost exclusively through e-mail. Alex preferred to continue writing her letters on her personalized stationery.
Soon, I was doing everything I could online: keeping in touch with friends, researching my papers, even buying clothes. Alex, who had always had to drag me to the mall, said that at least I was finally shopping for clothes. If I insisted on doing it online, that was still better than nothing.
When online banking with online bill pay came around, I opted for the automated statements as soon as I could. Within a month or so, I was paying almost all my bills online and on time. Alex just turned up her nose, as I'd known she would. She didn't even like to use the ATM. "Who knows what goes on inside those things?" she would say, and she said the same about the computer and internet banking and bill pay I was enjoying.
After graduation, Alex took a job a few towns away. It was the first time in our lives that we'd lived apart and it shook both of us up. Alex said there was no way she would be able to figure out e-mail, and I knew I'd never manage to sit down and write out a "snail mail" letter. We talked a lot over the phone and tried to visit as much as we could, but it wasn't enough for either of us. For the first time since childhood, we started to pick fights with each other.
Alex accused me of being lazy because of what she called living my life through the computer, and I accused her of being stuck in the dark ages for refusing to learn about the internet. For a few months we barely spoke.
Finally one Saturday, I decided to drive over to Alex's house. When I got there, I expected her to greet me and for us to make up for our unkindness to each other, but it turned out Alex had more immediate problems at hand.
She had bills all over her desk, and was stressed out about spending her entire weekend writing and mailing checks. She had even misplaced an important bill, and payment was due in just three days. If she didn't get it in the mail that day, it might be late. It was unlike Alex to misplace anything, but after we'd both searched for half an hour, I had to agree it was nowhere to be found. I asked to look at her budget, and she had everything written out on a piece of paper in pencil… and the numbers didn't add up. I told her to grab her bills bring them with us--we were going to the library.
In the community computer lab at the library, I created an account for Alex through an online bill pay service. I took a look at the old statements she'd brought along and arranged for payment to the service companies and banks to be made electronically. I even helped her download the payments into an electronic file so she could keep a budget that worked online.
Alex was so grateful and relieved! I showed her how to log out and log back into the bill pay service, and then walked her through the steps of setting up other payments to be taken electronically out of her checking account. Next, I showed her how she could keep track of all her finances online. She even let me show her how to get started on e-mail, but it was the ease and convenience of the online bill pay system that most impressed her.
I don't think Alex will ever give up her personalized stationery, but I know she still pays at least that one bill online every month. And, who knows? Maybe someday I'll get an e-mail from her. And maybe, just maybe, someday she'll get me back into a shopping mall.