How much do you want to pay big corporations to send you paper bills?

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 09/19/2014

Most consumers want a paper option for their bills and statements

This blog by Phil Riebel appeared in the series “Two Sides to Sustainability” on the Printing Impressions website on September 18, 2014

Canadians are paying over $500 million annually to receive paper bills they received free prior to 2010, according to a study by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC). The burden of the pay-to-pay rule implemented by telecom, internet and other firms falls heavily on low-income people and seniors who are less likely to have access to the internet.

In a survey of Canadian attitudes towards online billing commissioned by the PIAC, about 33% of respondents were not comfortable getting a bill online and an additional 5% had no access to the internet. A majority of consumers indicated their disapproval of companies charging people extra fees to get their bills on paper. They believe supplying a paper bill in the mail without having to pay an extra fee is part of the company’s cost of doing business.

Why not give up on paper bills? Well for one, paper statements give us a record of financial information that we can keep as long as we want. Anyone who has ever had to have a mistake corrected in an invoice or has ever been audited knows the value of a hard copy.

Paper bills are also constant reminders that we need to make a payment by a certain date. Electronic bills arrive in our inboxes and within hours or days, disappear off the page: out of sight; out of mind. Research backs this up. According to a case study by a Danish company Natur-Energi dedicated to delivering simple and effective energy solutions, customers paid the required amount on their bills significantly later if they received their invoices by email, compared to physical mail. The survey found that 59% of customers receiving the email invoice had to be sent a reminder, while only 29% receiving the mailed invoice required a follow-up message

Does paper billing actually save the company money? The Danish survey found that electronic billing led to more calls to the “Help line” and the bottom line was that it cost the company $3.25 per customer billed by paper invoice and $5.75 per customer billed by email.

To encourage an end to pay-to-pay billing, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) met with 11 communications companies in late August. All companies committed to providing some fee exemptions as of January 2015, but the CRTC felt that didn’t go far enough and recommended a public proceeding to seek the input of Canadians. According to Industry Minister James Moore, the Canadian government plans to introduce legislation that would halt the practice of charging fees for paper bills.

Most consumers want a paper option for their bills and statements. Like earlier studies carried out in the U.S. and the U.K., a recent nationwide survey conducted for Two Sides US by the research firm Toluna showed that 64% of consumers say they would not choose a company that did not offer a paper bill option and 88% want to be able to switch between electronic and paper bills without difficulty or cost.  Companies that ignore the wants and needs of their clients, risk losing their business.

Source: This blog by Phil Riebel originally appeared on the Printing Impressions website on September 18, 2014.