Online utility services: for the money-rich, time-poor

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Came across this interesting online service, Taxsmile, an initiative from ICICI’s 3iInfotech. It aims to simplify the process of filing tax returns online. The market for utility services – those that take care of utility services like paying bills has seen some players in both the offline and online world. Billjunction, Easy Bill created visibility at the local level and promoted their online services to some extent. Banks too have offered bill payments as a service. Visa joined the bandwagon with Visa Bill Pay recently.

The latest action is on the tax pay front. Taxsmile was voted the overall winner in the PC World Web Awards 2008. It charges start at Rs. 250 for filing the tax yourself or Rs. 750 if you let them complete the whole enchilada. Not to be left behind, Bennet Coleman & Company has invested in Taxshax. Other players like InvestmentYogi have jumped into the fray. The process of filing returns is usually left to the personal auditor (whose charges are lower than the online services). The Income Tax Department too has a facility to pay taxes online. I guess the barrier with the former is time and with the latter it is the perception of it being troublesome.

What gives? The action around paying tax online is timed with the last date for filing tax returns. So in the next one month, these guys are likely to up the visibility. Interestingly, the number of tax payers in India is reported at 40 million. The credit card base is half that, at 20 million. Assuming that the online penetration is higher among this audience, there is a potential for such services.

Over time, what separates one online service from the other since the basic offering is the same? Pedigree (who is behind the service), simplicity of process, security and user-friendliness come to mind. And with more and more people getting money-rich and time poor, come ‘tax payments’ and we may reach out for the web, instead of the auditor.

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