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Micro-rant: Irritations of Paperless Billing

Mar 17, 2014   [permalink]

Okay, I've gone paperless for a few years now on a number of my accounts and bills—and I absolutely hate the process. It's not that I hate web interfaces—on the contrary, I'm CEO of a tech company that designs large systems, spent over 20 years as a computer science professor, and am a web pioneer, having founded the first Internet Service Provider—so I love doing things digitally—rather, it's that I absolutely can't stand how most companies have implemented e-statements.

I know they want to save on postage, but why can't they please make it more convenient for customers?

Having to log in to every single place each and every month to download each statement or bill really gets time consuming. (A friend of mine who owns a property management company with hundreds of accounts says the same thing, but in much stronger language.) These places have unpleasantly pushed their cost onto us.

Much of the design misconception seems to stem from a misguided assumption that we have all the time in the world out here, and it's convenient to do all this logging in and downloading all the time, month after month, endlessly. The time adds up to many hours a year wasted. So no, it's really not convenient at all.

So I'd hereby like to openly ask all billers, banks, brokerages, etc. to PLEASE do one or preferably all of the following:

1) Have an option we can select to email the entire, actual pdf each month. That is, emailing the actual PDF of the statement, not just emailing a note that says "you can log in to see your statement." The logging in and navigating and selecting, downloading, etc. is the problem. It's a problem to have to do it every single month, and if you don't do it for a while, then it's painful to do a whole bunch of months one at a time. Very tedious. For those of us with safe email servers, if they email the actual PDF in the first place, no logging in etc. is needed. My email is secure—and these statement providers could suppress the full account number on them if they wish—so there's no real security issue. Also, send them with a consistent Subject line, so we can automatically archive them. I have a couple statements I get this way (alas, only two!) and it's sooooo pleasant and convenient. (And no, don't put a password on the PDF; that's just as bad.) At least, we should have the option to choose if we want the full statement emailed.

2A) Provide a batch download feature, to download an entire year's worth of statements with just one click, bundled into one PDF. (For each year, not just the current year. E.g., one button for "Download all 2011 statements", one for "Download all 2012 statements", one for "Download all 2013 statements to date".) Another button for "Download all available statements" would be very helpful too. As an added feature, but not in place of the convenience of the above, would be a selected date range download feature. This is more work for the user, but useful in some cases. (For those who manage multiple accounts, such as my friend, this wouldn't be much help—so a useful feature in that case would be a monthly batch download of all the accounts one manages with one button); plus...

2B) For bills with an amount due, if there's no option to email the actual bill, provide the option to include the amount due and due date in the notification email. It's such a hassle to have to log in just to find the amount and date so I can put it into the billpay system. (No, having the billpay system receive the bill isn't a good solution either. They may not show the full statement so you lose what may be critical information, it can be just as much of a pain to archive these, and so on.) This isn't an adequate replacement for option #1 by a long shot, but it's a necessary add-on for #2A.

3) If a company can't provide a digital delivery approach that is convenient for someone, then send paper statements for free. Just to those who want them—that is, those people who don't like the way that company does it online. That only seems fair: If the company can't serve their customer well with a paperless option convenient to the customer, then either fix things so they are convenient, or send paper.

I'd also ask all these companies to please retain statements online without expiration. It's frustrating to need old statements that one forgot to download only to find them unavailable. I know these require a teensy smidge more computing resources at their end—but computing power and storage isn't costly any more (I should know). So come on guys, let's not cheap out here and be greedy at the expense of the customer. These guys are already saving all that money that used to go into mailing paper statements.

If we're forced to accept e-statements, please at least do it in a way that's actually convenient for us customers. Our time is valuable too. Thanks.

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