Friday, March 26, 2010

Leaving the Mailstream: Checking, Savings and Credit Card Statements

At most banks, customers opening a new account have the option of paper or electronic statements.   Yesterday, for the first time I was offered an account for which paper statements were an option that included a $5.00 fee.   The fee will not affect my decision over which bank I choose, as I had planned to only have on-line statements anyway.  What I did not like was that this bank only allowed access to on-line statements for 18 months where other banks with similar accounts offer on-line storage for twice as long.

Nor is it likely to affect this bank's customers most of whom are businesses and non-profits.  In fact, charging a fee fits with the bank's marketing strategy of catering to businesses in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.

Until recently, Banks and merchants have encouraged paperless statements by promoting the environmental advantages to their customers.   However more are beginning to charge new account holders a fee for paper statements.  For example, Ann Taylor and Victoria's Secret are now charging $1 a month for paper statements.  Other banks are forcing customers to choose free paper statements as one of the limited set of free services associated with their account.  If they do not choose paper statements as a free service, the bank charges $2 to add paper statements as an account feature.

In a survey of Quest Communications customers conducted by Aspen Marketing Associates for Fiserv, the customers that received their bills electronically were on average 10 years younger and had used the services of Quest Communications for 8 fewer years.   These differences reflect the fact that customers receiving their bills electronically were more likely to have started service recently than those receiving paper bills.

The primary purpose of the study was to see if electronic bill payment and presentment improved customer retention over paper bills and other payment methods.  The key findings were as follows:

  1. Consumers that use e-bill are 7-15% less likely to churn than those receiving a paper bill
  2. After controlling for all other factors, Aspen found that consumers that use recurring bill payments are 10-15% less likely to churn than other customers. 
  3. Among non-recurring payments, bank e-Bill presentment and payment was the optimal option from Qwest’s perspective, followed by EFT, paper check, and then credit card. 
  4. Bill presentment and bill payment need to also be examined holistically; because the way that people receive their bill has a significant impact on how they will pay their bill. Sometimes, the same payment, paired with a different presentment type, leads to different outcomes.
Consumers are shifting to electronic payments even if they still receive paper bills due to either a requirement of the merchant or the convenience that electronic payment offers.   The report illustrates that merchants now face the challenge of managing the consumer's choice of electronic payment method as credit card and debit card as credit card payments are much more expensive than most other methods.  Having successfully shifted most customers to higher retention electronic payment methods, the new challenge for merchants will be to cajole customers to both accept e-bills and choose the lowest cost electronic payment methods.   The value of taking on that challenge is illustrated in the following chart taken from the report.

Credit card and debit card as credit card payments are much more expensive than most other methods including paper checks.  

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