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Easy and free access to paper-based communications is key for millions of consumers

Many corporate service providers are now imposing fees and restricting access to paper bills and statements by forcing consumers to go digital or requiring them to opt-in to paper statements by making digital the default communication method. However, a recent International survey shows that a large majority of consumers are unhappy with this push to digital.

Consumers want to retain a choice

A 2019 consumer survey commissioned by Two Sides, "Busting the Myths: A study of consumer perceptions and attitudes towards print and paper", reveals that 86% of American consumers and 82% of Canadian consumers believe they should have the right to choose how they receive communications from their banks and other service providers.[1] Not surprisingly, in the 55 years and older age group this value rises to 90% but even in the 35-54 years age group, an average of 88% of consumers in the U.S. believe in their right to choose between paper or digital options.

In the U.S. and Canada, 85% and 80%, respectively, believe they should have the right to revert to paper options after choosing digital and 74% and 66% say they should not be charged for paper bills and statements.

Millions don't have proper online access and need paper

Mail remains a key part of people's lives and it is essential for many including seniors, people with disabilities, low-income families, and those without computer skills or access to the internet. For people 65 years and older, 66% used the internet compared to 87% for ages 50-64 and 97% for the younger age groups.[2] Only 45% of U.S. adults with annual incomes of less than 30,000 are home broadband users compared to 87% for those with incomes over $75,000.[3] Education also influences internet access: 65% of those with less than high school graduation used the internet compared to 84% for high school graduates and 97% for college graduates.

In Canada in 2016, approximately 18% of households did not have access to fixed broadband Internet access services at the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission's (CRTC) target speeds of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload. Many rural and remote regions of Canada lack the infrastructure that is needed to make high-quality fixed broadband services available to households and businesses.[4]

Many are concerned about data privacy and online security issues

The security of paper vs digital records is also of concern to consumers. 70% and 64% of those surveyed in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, are increasingly concerned that their personal information held electronically is at risk of being hacked, stolen, lost, or damaged.[1] These concerns are valid. For example, during the first six months of 2018, more than 25 million data records were compromised or exposed every day around the world. These included medical, credit card and/or financial data or personally identifiable information. Only 1% of the stolen, lost or compromised data records were protected by encryption to render the information useless.[5]

These doubts about cyber security may also explain why 73% of U.S. respondents and 67% of Canadian respondents keep hard copies of important documents filed at home, as they believe this is the safest and most secure way of storing their information.[1]

The recent Toluna survey results also support the conclusions of a National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) study stating that paper statements must be available for free for consumers who want them. The study argues that the choice between paper and electronic deliveries of financial statements should be an individual right based on personal broadband or cellular accessibility, preference, and concerns over data security. They also point out that individuals should not be coerced into electronic statements or steered into them by default if paper is the consumer's first choice.

What are the regulations?

A variety of federal regulations require paper financial account statements, but companies are increasingly looking to use implied consent (instead of clear permissions) or impose fees as tactics to move consumers to digital. An EMA Foundation report, Legal Issues Relevant To Ensuring A Consumer's Right To Secure Paper Communications, suggests avenues to insert language in various appropriations bills for the three agencies that administer the relevant types of statements could result in greater protection.

What are consumers saying?

A recent Keep Me Posted Fact Sheet "The Push to Digital - How do Consumers feel About it?" outlines how consumers feel about increased digitization. The opinion of many is that good customer service should include easy access to paper bills and statements at no extra charge. However, to save costs, large corporations are now "passing the buck" to their customers who often need or prefer paper copies and are forced to pay extra or print them at home at their own cost.

________

[1] Toluna and Two Sides North America, 2019. Busting the Myths: A study of U.S. and Canadian consumer perceptions and attitudes towards print and paper. https://twosidesna.org/survey

[2] Pew Research Center. 2018. http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/

[3] Pew Research Center. 2018. http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/

[4] CRTC, 2016. https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/publications/reports/rp161221/rp161221.htm

[5] Gemalto. 2018. https://www.gemalto.com/press/pages/data-breaches-compromised-4-5-billion-records-in-first-half-of-2018.aspx



 


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