Four U.S. financial firms stand out by respecting customer communication preferences

Consumer Action aligns with Keep Me Posted to ensure paper bills remain as a free option

Banks and other financial institutions are the first commercial sector analyzed by Keep Me Posted North America as part of its ongoing mission to ensure customers are given a clear choice in how they receive information—on paper or digitally—and that they are not charged extra for paper statements. Consumer Action is a founding supporter of Keep Me Posted.

To see how well U.S. financial institutions are serving consumers when it comes to their communication preferences, Keep Me Posted reviewed the billing practices of the top 20 (by revenue) Fortune 500 companies in this sector to see how they align with KMP’s Best Practices for essential communications:

  • No charges or other penalties for choosing paper bills
  • Prior consumer consent required before ceasing to send paper documents
  • No change in paper bill frequency without prior agreement
  • No difficulty to revert back to paper correspondence
  • Continued access to online options

Keep Me Posted found that only four of America’s top 20 financial institutions put their customers’ preferences first, do so without fees, and make their practices easily accessible. The rest of the companies chose to limit options, restrict consumer control, put financial penalties on paper choice, or make it difficult to impossible to know what their practices are prior to opening an account with them.

Because of their approach to consumer choice, KMP is highlighting the best practices of Bank of America, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. In treating bills and statements as a usual and expected part of doing business, these companies transparently provide a range of paper and digital options, honor preferences, seek consent for changes, and pose no barriers for customers who wish to switch between digital and paper notices. And most importantly, they charge no additional fees for either form of delivery.

KMP also recognizes Citibank/Citigroup with a good practices mark for not charging penalties or fees for paper bills and statements, and for not making it unduly burdensome for customers to revert to paper correspondence. However, Keep Me Posted urged the company to ensure that it receives customers’ consent prior to changing them from paper to digital documents.

The remaining top U.S. financial institutions—ranked by annual revenue—fell short of best practices that make consumer communications preferences a priority. Most are charging between $2 and $4 for a paper statement that costs them less than 70 cents.[i] Many treat prior consent like an afterthought. Linda Sherry, Consumer Action's director of national priorities, said, "It is disappointing, to say the least, that Keep Me Posted found that nearly three quarters of America’s biggest banks and financial institutions make obtaining legally required information such as fees, options, consent and controls on critical communications preferences inaccessible and often impossible to find without direct personal interactions with representatives."

As more and more companies have prioritized digital-first approaches to conducting business, consumers trapped in the digital divide can be disenfranchised. Especially in the turmoil and uncertainty of the pandemic, communications options and preferences are more critical than ever. Any changes to established patterns of communications with customers should be at the request of the consumer. Proactive consent is paramount and should be honored as a decision to opt-in. Unexpectedly disrupting paper communications and implementing difficult hurdles to resume them is unacceptable and should never be considered. Customers should have free access to the account information they need in paper or electronic form, according to their own choices. In addition to keeping pace with industry peers who are demonstrating leadership when it comes to customer communication preferences, financial institutions may find that giving customers the flexibility to choose paper delivery for essential account information free of charge is a sound investment in both customer retention and measurable customer service cost savings.[ii]

To learn more about the Keep Me Posted campaign, visit its website or follow the campaign on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

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[i] Keep Me Posted found that a mid-sized firm is unlikely to pay more than $0.685 to mail a bill or statement with a return envelope for payment. Furthermore, a larger institution sending only statements with no return envelope and achieving the highest efficiency discounts provided by USPS, could easily pay less than $0.46 per paper notice on account. See: https://keepmepostedna.org/is-a-6-50-paper-statement-fee-a-rip-off/

[ii] A case study that tested the effectiveness of paper versus electronic billing found that paper outperformed digital in securing timely payments, and the need to follow up on e-mailed invoices significantly increased customer service costs. See: https://twosidesna.org/US/can-paper-bills-be-more-cost-effective-than-e-bills/

 

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