We can all agree that
enough time and resources have been spent on the electronic delivery
of documents that if it were going to take off as the next big thing,
it would have happened by now. Even with the biological and chemical
terrorism concerns regarding USPS paper-based mail, it remains the
obvious method of choice for most bill payers and document consumers.
Looking Back Starting in the late 1990s, many
leading research firms predicted significant gains in consumer adoption
and biller cost reduction. Hardcopy document rendering was considered
"old economy,” not progressive enough to demand lavish
budgets within document creating organizations, nor strategic enough
to warrant future technology enhancements or upgrades. For some,
the paper paradigm was finished; the only question remaining was
how long would it be necessary to support the hardcopy applications
before everyone shifted to electronic delivery.
Madison Advisors' research supports its continued
stance that until more value is provided to consumers, electronic
adoption rates will remain disappointing. In recent interviews,
major document producers have indicated that they are experiencing
negative adoption of electronic delivery. This means that more people
who initially signed up to turn paper delivery off are calling to
turn the paper delivery back on than new electronic delivery customers.
While we continue to believe that electronic document delivery has
the potential to deliver value that consumers cannot resist, the
systems to deliver this value remain elusive.
Current Situation There are numerous obstacles
that are thwarting mass adoption of pure electronic delivery of
documents, either bills or statements. Specifically:
Technology — While technology has freed
us from most daily chores, it continues to hinder us in other areas.
New technology, Wireless Access Protocol, the Internet, Personal
Digital Assistants have freed us from our desks, but we become slaves
to the technology. Interfaces remain cumbersome, access is slow
and inconsistent and standards and protocols are dynamic. Compounding
this are the legacy systems that actually do the processing, which
are very linear and inflexible.
Viewing Availability Limitations — The Internet,
Wireless, DSL and high-speed cable modems continue to improve; however,
consumers with high-speed cable, DSL or wireless access at home
remain a small minority. While home computer ownership has reached
majority status in US homes, slow dial-up service continues to be
the norm. While these numbers are rising as the service improves
and prices drop, most consumers do not have access to the technology
required to view statements or pay bills from home.
The Hassle Factor — Currently, writing paper
checks and opening a brokerage statement envelope remains simpler
than powering up a PC and viewing documents online. Hopefully this
process will become easier, but billers and document providers have
been slow to provide additional value to the user or consumer.
Document Cycles — While most statements
arrive at the beginning of the month, most bill payers receive bills
sporadically throughout the month, so consumers must log-on several
times to pay them. While systems are in place to allow autopay of
reoccurring bills, most payers are reluctant of this process. In
addition, there is no correlation between when bills are due and
when consumers receive their paychecks. Reviewing statements and
paying bills electronically would be simpler and more convenient
if consumers could coordinate their statements and bill due dates
with their paychecks and log-on only once or twice a month to review
and pay all of their bills.
Going Forward While it is difficult to predict
the future, it is painfully apparent that hardcopy and electronic
coexistence will remain slow to evolve. Why is this? Several hurdles
previously identified remain valid obstacles for widespread consumer
adoption of electronic delivery. In addition, the adoption and exploitation
of newer technologies, such as XML and PPML, will create middle
ground that will support the coexistence.
We know from history that electronic billing vendors
could not support a separate, unique industry and subsequently folded
into existing business processes that made sense, such as customer
service or core billing applications. For example, Checkfree's acquisition
of BlueGill, docSense's acquisition of Alysis, Metavante's acquisition
of both Derivion and CyberBills and Group 1's purchase of Trisense
demonstrate the reduced role electronic delivery has accepted. Within
corporate structures, where a captive audience exists, companies
have been able to mandate paperless environments and drive their
constituents to the intranet. Corporate America lacks the authority
to mandate customer delivery, where clients quickly switch when
offered limited or inconvenient delivery choices.
What is clear is that customers will choose which
delivery method works best for their situations, and organizations
that attempt to drive cost reduction and paper elimination projects
on their clients will face unpleasant results. People like choices.
Starbucks serves coffee, yet there are dozens of items on its menu,
and countless more not listed, all for coffee. Madison Advisors
recommends that organizations provide both electronic and paper-based
delivery to customers and allow information consumers to decide
which format works best for their needs. It undoubtedly costs more,
but chances are, organizations are required to support both formats
regardless. When customers are ready, when the value is there, they'll
switch on their timetables, not the organizations'. After all, they're
all just delivery options, and organizations didn't attempt to discontinue
paper when fax distribution became a delivery alternative.
Kemal Carr is president of Madison Advisors,
a research and consulting firm that helps advance customer communications
strategies associated with high-volume transaction print services
and electronic content delivery. For more information or to contact
Kemal, please visit www.madison-advisors.com.