It’s 2014, so why are digital document delivery and paperless adoption still thorny problems that seem like they should have been solved years ago? In a world where consumers adopt compelling new technology at lightning speed, digital document management seems to be mired in quicksand. Did you know that a typical financial services firm is stuck at 10% to 15% digital adoption, just about where it was five years ago?

Why aren’t consumers getting the message and changing their behavior? Easy. It’s because the solutions in the market aren’t consumer-centric. The better question is why companies and solution providers aren’t getting the message that what is currently offered is not useful enough to consumers to convince them to go paperless on a large scale. Unnecessary complexity, siloed approaches and the lack of an innovative, unified and comprehensive solution have meant that customers couldn’t feel comfortable turning off paper billing completely.

A recent survey of more than 200 executives focused on emerging payments and financial services showed that they themselves have not fully “gone digital.”

  • Nearly half of them (45%) still write some paper checks each month.

  • One in five (19%) write checks for bills that could easily be handled electronically, such as telecom, wireless, cable, credit cards, utilities, health and medical.

  •  63% go to multiple places each month to pay their bills, with more than one quarter (27%) going to four or more places each month.

The lack of an electronic option was the most cited reason for writing a check. But the next three reasons were more telling. Many executives said billers make it too hard or time-consuming to pay electronically; others said they were nervous about missing a payment; and some said they like having paper copies when managing their finances or tax returns. And these are people who are educated consumers as well as executives in our industry. They’re in the know about the alternatives. Why would we expect the “average consumer” to adopt something that the “informed consumer” still hesitates to do?

While the current standoff continues, companies are facing a real cost. According to a 2012 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the financial services industry spends close to $20 billion each year on printing and distributing paper-based customer communications.

Here’s what both parties want: Companies want to increase brand engagement and loyalty and drive down servicing costs. Consumers want to more effectively use the platforms they already know and trust, whether that’s Dropbox, Evernote or their bank’s website.

Let’s face it, paying bills and managing documents isn’t like playing games or sharing photos. It’s a “have to do” rather than a “want to do,” and there are negative consequences and frustration if it’s done wrong, ranging from missed payments to documents the consumer needs but cannot find. If we want people to do it differently, we need to make it fast and easy, but also comfortable, reassuring and dependable over the long term. When consumers need to access their important documents, such as bills and statements from investment firms or healthcare providers, they want to get them securely and quickly from destinations they select rather than just the point-of-payment for bills alone.

"The financial services industry spends close to $20 billion each year on printing and distributing paper-based customer communications."

In an era where many industries have been upended by disruptive technology, it appears that the solution to the problem of digital document distribution is not revolution, but evolution.

The answer is to broaden access so a consumer can confidently go paperless. Give people the freedom and choice in selecting their document delivery and filing, in addition to payments. Give them the convenience to do it using the end consumer destinations that they already trust.

Right now, consumers consider their banking relationship to be transactional vs. relationship driven. But research also shows that half of consumers want their bank to become a centralized resource for bill paying and content presentment. Banks just haven’t been able to deliver the innovation that, paired with consumer trust, would lead to the loyalty and retention every brand craves.

Financial institutions are faced with a great opportunity, and the bank site has the potential of becoming a fully automated and interactive digital filing cabinet that’s integrated with online banking. In the end, this solution will result in happy customers, which we know are the most loyal customers. It’s time to solve the conundrum, and so far, 2015 is looking bright.

CHUCK CORDRAY is the CEO of Inlet, LLC and is responsible for leading and growing the company’s innovative product offerings to drive paperless adoption by businesses 
and consumers. Previously, he was president of Digital Mailing Solutions at Pitney Bowes and has held executive leadership roles for several large consumer media companies, including TV Guide Publishing Group, Primedia, Inc. and Meredith Corporation. Mr. Cordray received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard and an MBA from Stanford University.

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