Why does the National Consumer Law Center say that electronic statements can cause consumer harm?

Every so often the information industry will publish a series of articles, columns, and research reports on “The Office of the Future,” or “Paperless office remains out of reach,” or “5 Steps to a paperless life,” or “ROI on paper-free projects,” or even “Why paper still rules the enterprise?” Articles like these advocate the benefits and frustrations of moving to a totally digital world. Most of these articles concentrate on the office and have a myriad of statistics that would make your head swim. There has been such a force to drive to the paperless office that home users of paper have been left out in the cold.

When Businessweek published the now famous “The Office of the Future” on June 30, 1975, the article said, “Some believe the paperless office is not that far off.” Vincent E. Giuliano of Arthur D. Little (the world’s first consultancy) was quoted in the article and said he “figures that the use of paper in business for records and correspondence should be declining by 1980, and by 1990, most record-handling will be electronic.”

Since that timeframe there has been an onslaught of software and hardware to help companies move to this nirvana. Electronic document management systems (EDMS) seems to be the predecessor of the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) along with the various ECM components of capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver. ECM is comprised of software dedicated to reduce the role of paper in companies.

However, a rather new report from a year ago from the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) titled “Paper Statements: An Important Consumer Protection” attacks the premise that electronic statements benefit consumers. Credit card companies, brokerage houses, banks, and other financial institutions continue to press consumers to switch over to e-statements and “go green.” Bankers are not pleased with this report because the NCLC is asking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to “establish new standards regarding the delivery of monthly statements for bank accounts, credit cards, and mortgages.”

NCLC believes that pushing electronic statements can “cause consumer harm” since a paper statement can be used as a record-keeping tool, a reminder to pay a bill, resolve questionable charges or fees on said bill, checking the most recent transactions, reviewing the statements for variable interest rate changes, and to combat fraud. One of the most interesting points of contention is the “digital divide” that was shown in the report as an infographic (see Figure 1) that “over half of consumers with less than a high school education do not have home broadband connections.” Also, the percentage of homes with broadband has declined from 70 percent to 67 percent, the reason – cost to the consumer.


NCLC Digital Divide Source: Pew Research

While it definitely benefits companies to move from paper to paperless processes to improve productivity, reduce costs, and errors, at the same time, the consumer needs to be considered because either way, they will ultimately be picking up the tab!

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