• April 15, 2011
  • By Koa Beck, Editorial Assistant, CRM magazine

Will Paperless Payments Take Off Among Customers?

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Volly, the latest digital delivery service application, has debuted in New York. During the press luncheon, Pitney Bowes, the proud parents, displayed the digital mail communications platform on a desktop, an iPad, and an iPhone.

The cloud-based platform allows consumers to receive, organize, and manage bills, statements, catalogues, coupons, and direct marketing from multiple providers through a single application. The service, which also includes online bill pay, is opt-in, consumer-focused, and a “lifestyle offer,” Pitney Bowes says.

Forrester identified the growing need for a service like Volly in November in a report titled “Paperless Plight: Growing Resistance Outpaces Adoption Among U.S. Bank Holders.” The report illustrated consumer commitment to paper despite advances in online banking.

“With more U.S. consumers accessing their bank accounts through multiple channels today, the value of a paper snapshot of their financial activity would seem to have shrunk considerably,” writes Emmett Higdon, senior analyst of e-business and channel strategy at Forrester Research. “And, yet, the percentage of U.S. bank account holders who have given up paper statements averages just 24 percent. Worse still, 37 percent of account holders who receive a paper statement today say they will never abandon paper in favor of online statements.”

After surveying 3,545 adults, Forrester determined that checking, savings, and money market account holders constitute the largest number of adult paperless customers (28 percent).

Consumers remain attached to paper bills and statements out of a compulsion to save everything for personal records, putting little faith in a computer that could die or a hard drive that could crash, according to Higdon. Forrester highlights certain companies that have identified this gap, such as Wells Fargo and Citi, which store bank statements as far back as seven years.

Higdon calls for a new model in his report, writing that “as U.S. consumers make increased use of multiple banking channels, the static display of information provided by paper statements seems almost quaint by comparison.”

In the context of Facebook, mobile devices, and mobile money management tools, Higdon says, customers should have a better alternative to mailed statements. “Many customers still cling to paper and the mistaken belief that they need the paper for record-keeping purposes,” he elaborates. “A new, more aggressive strategy is needed to overcome this widespread apathy and lack of understanding.”

Pitney Bowes sought to pursue this very strategy with the development of Volly, but it’s not alone. Doxo, another e-billing Web service, offers similar paper-free benefits with cloud-based storage and at no charge. Founded in 2008, doxo identified the same problem with the costs of transactional mail as well as customers’ loveless marriage to paper.

“This is a problem that is way overdue for solving,” says Steve Shivers, co-founder and CEO of doxo. “Online adoption should be the primary way, not the second way. It should be done in exclusion to paper, not in addition to paper.”

Zumbox is another, working directly with mailers to create a free “digital mailbox.” At present, Zumbox functions as an online desktop application with the possibility of charging for premium services in the future. Mail and statements can also be viewed on mobile devices via the Zumbox Mobile Reader.

Zumbox boasts that consumers get their statements two to three days sooner than they would a paper bill. In signing up with Zumbox, consumers can go paperless; Zumbox can communicate directly with service providers to stop all paper statements.

Bernie Gracy, vice president of business development and operations for Volly, is also adamant that Pitney Bowes’ delivery service application offers consumers an option. When asked how Volly plans to sever the customer’s dependency on paper, he insists not everyone would.

“We have to be careful when we talk about breaking [this] relationship,” he says. “For a specific segment of the population, they are going to like to continue to receive their mail. But for those who have already indicated the pain point is high, there are solutions on the market. A different paradigm needs to be developed for [this] segment of the population.”

So far Pitney Bowes has found Volly users to be “emotional” over the prospect of being released from a long-standing crutch.

Editorial Assistant Koa Beck can be reached at kbeck@destinationcrm.com.

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