Statement E-Delivery is Broken

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It’s year end and like millions of other households I am rounding up all our electronic records for reconciliation and tax purposes. Much of our information is still best or only presented in paper or as PDF statements. Beyond this fact, many of us would prefer to have access to offline copies of our records that we can archive, quickly navigate, cross reference and be sure to retain beyond when a particular account is still active.

Businesses are pushing for electronic delivery of these statements, bills and tax documents, but e-delivery is broken. In fact {“ what businesses today are calling e-delivery is actually e-pickup “}, and true e-delivery doesn’t actually exist! The onus is on us to visit the 20 or more web sites where our content is stored, then manually retrieve, save and organize this content. No wonder so many people are not willing to turn off paper!


Ask yourself, do you excitedly go and collect your statement when you see an email message such as this one? Or do you file the message away to be dealt with later?

Do you think it isn’t a lot of work to go collect all your statements? Or have you been neglecting to keep your records up to date? This video at 60X normal speed shows how long it takes to retrieve several months of Aetna health records. The actual time to complete this task is 20 minutes.

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It’s not just that it takes a long time to retrieve these documents. We have to deal with so many different web sites with major inconsistencies in how they implement statement downloading:

  • T-Mobile’s site is so slow I avoid visiting it for any reason, let alone retrieving statements. Furthermore, statements aren’t available as PDF, so you need your own PDF generator software. A few months ago I was forced to migrate my phone to a new plan and could no longer access my bills from the previous months and had no way of seeing why there were overcharges for those months. The lesson: please keep sending me paper!
  • Stanford Hospital introduced online bills, but where are they? Keep the paper coming until you figure it out!
  • First Republic Bank redirects you to a 3rd party site to view your statements. But the way the site is designed, you can’t download the PDF using Mac/Chrome, which I use. So (i) open Safari and wait for usual Safari spinning pizza (ii) navigate to bank site (iii) enter the incorrect password (iv) look up your password wherever you have it stored (v) navigate again to the statement page. This is not something you’d be willing to going to go through every month. Many other sites have similar problems of not working across all browsers.
  • Many sites save PDF files with .aspx or other file extensions, depending on your browser, adding to the inconvenience.
  • Merrill Lynch lets you download the tax documents you’ve been anxiously waiting for as PDF files, but they correct them for errors and email you that your tax document has been updated while failing to tell you which of several tax documents was updated, so you download them all again. And then they send the same message again. And again a few more times.
  • Vanguard sends you a notice to download a particular updated prospectus, but then you are expected navigate pulldowns and menus to find the prospectus to which they are referring.
  • In some situations a browser will warn you that each individual PDF could potentially harm your computer. This should not be necessary when retrieving content from trusted sources.

When you do download your own copy of a statement, you need to rename it and find a folder to put it in. This is a tedious and inconsistent experience at best. Imagine if you still had to do this when downloading podcasts for your iPod? You just wouldn’t do it. So why are we still forced to go through this process for our important financial documents?

The cost of this poor experience is that:

  • Only 20% of households have gone paperless
  • Consumers that do go paperless:
    • can barely keep up, and
    • run the risk of falling behind on their accounts (I only check my credit card statements every few months because keeping up with various accounts is too much of a pain)

Broken Solutions

There are a number of broken solutions to this problem, with more on the way. Bill Pay is the first and is broken because:

  • Less then 10% of all billers make their bills available via bill pay because they are reluctant to give up eye balls to the Bill Pay web site.
  • It’s too much work for consumers to download and organize the bills.
  • Not all documents for a particular biller are available via Bill Pay.
  • Bill Pay is only good for bills. What about health records, bank statements, pay-stubs, etc.?
  • How many consumers turn off paper delivery because Bill Pay satisfies their delivery needs?

Canada Post’s ePost runs a cloud-based bill aggregation site and is similarly broken. They’ve been operating for a decade with only 10% consumer market penetration. Why? Because:

  • Why would a consumer seek out a new middleman when viewing a bill from a mailer?
  • Low document density: Canada Post is mostly just bills.
  • Billers feel disenfranchised by sending traffic to the ePost site, and so are reluctant to participate.
  • If a consumer wants to view a statement online, why would they bother with PDF or the ePost site when they could just go directly to the mailer’s web site?
  • If a consumer wants to retrieve a statement for local archive, where is that solution?

Bill Pay and ePost are cloud-based aggregation services. In this context we now have a minimum of three new companies entering the U.S. market to provide pretty much the same cloud-centric service as ePost. These companies each have their own twist to the ePost story:

  • Doxo wants to be your filling cabinet in the sky, allowing you to add and upload your own content. They currently only have a handful of direct relationships with mailers whereby content is automatically retrieved.
  • Manilla is owned by Hearst and wants to be your statement and bill pay headquarters. They’re currently relying on too much screen scraping (their retrieval of PG&E statements broke last month when PG&E overhauled their web site).
  • Volly is owned by Pitney Bowes and is the most likely to succeed because they have direct relationships with many mailers via their Pitney Bowes print relationships. They are promising to launch in 2012 once they have 50% of content on board.

Fundamentally, and despite their different approaches, they are all likely to suffer the same fate as ePost, which is sustained mediocrity. This will be because:

  • Consumers aren’t seeking new middlemen to have a relationship with: to login to, to provide account credentials too, or where they can further fragment their online storage (if they already use Dropbox or iCloud for their other records, why introduce a new site?)
  • Some rely on scraping content off of mailer web sites, which can break very easily and result in constant account needs attention alerts. For reliable delivery to work there needs to be a formal relationship between the mailer and the service.
  • These sites are not addressing e-delivery, and are instead hosting your content for viewing via a web interface and are still just e-pickup services.
  • These sites are not adequately addressing the channel delivery needs of mailers (mailers feel disenfranchised).

There is a benefit to cloud aggregation, which is that your content can be viewed via a web interface from any device and backup is taken care of for your. Apparently, however, these advantages have not yet resonated strongly with ePost customers, even after 10 years in service. If consumers are viewing content online they prefer to go straight to the business’ web site. What is more important is that business documents be deliverable to where consumers want them. The likely target devices are PCs and tablets. Access from mobile devices is less important as “Americans simply don’t have a need to pay their bills while on the go” [Consumers and Online Bill Management, Mercator, September 2011]. A delivery and sync strategy is therefore likely to be more relevant.

It is also true that many consumers and businesses continue to be reluctant to embrace cloud storage for confidential data. Given the continual reports of password breaches, privacy concerns, security problems with cloud providers and the possibility of the government snooping your online records, this may be the more prudent then irrational opinion. There is some evidence that consumers have an 80% preference for desktop over cloud solutions for this type of data (based on the findings of a product offered by a company in a neighboring space). There is also evidence that many businesses, and in particular those in the health or financial sectors, are not interested in enabling their content to be viewed on 3rd party sites.

Cloud-centric aggregation solutions may make sense when your content is data and there are functions to be performed on the site, and for this we have sites like Mint. When your content is archival PDF files, however, please just help me download and organize my documents! If I want to do backup, let me use what I’m already using, whether that be an external hard drive or an online service of my choice. If I want to sync across devices, I’ll use the same online service that I’m using for my other content.