Why I Still Get Paper Bills

I think it might be Ben Franklin who said “A paper bill is the worst way to get your account statement, except for all the other ways.” Or maybe not.  Whatever.  I still get a lot of bills on paper delivered through the (physical) mail, and here is why.

On two occasions in the past I had the same bad experience: I stop or change the service, and at the same time I lose all access to the old statements.  I had a telephone data plan where I was getting the bills online which I no longer needed.  I cancelled the plan and immediately lost access to all of the old bill.  In fact, I was unable to verify that the final settlement check was correct because access to the account was canceled before the last statement was prepared.

Mudflow_mailboxesThe flaw is equating access to the web site (portal) with the service being delivered, and thinking that termination of a service also means termination of access to the statements.  On line statements are a record of the service, and should be available for a reasonable time after the service ends.

While I really hate the bother that comes with paper-based statement of having to file them in a drawer.  I also hate to use up paper for such a trivial thing.  However, if the account is cancelled for any reason, the statement remain accessible for a long time afterward. Their arrive every month forces me to file them, and usually if needed I can find them.  This is simply not true with online statements that can become inaccessible on a moment’s notice.

There are many reasons why an account may be stopped.  My wife’s purse was stolen with a checkbook in it.  We went to the bank, closed that account and reopened another.  By doing that, access to all the old account statements was terminated.  I did not plan this ahead of time, and did not download all the statements beforehand.  A bank official was gracious enough to collect all the old statements and email them to me, but not all companies are that accommodating.

Access and service:  A closed bank account still exists as a record in their system.  While a closed bank account should not be able to hold or transfer funds, but there is no reason that the owner of that closed account should be unable to access it.  A closed telephone account means that you can’t use the phone, but it should not mean that the user and password set up should be simultaneously cancelled.

It reminds me of those over simplified business processes that amateurs invent for symmetry reasons: Opening account the account involves creating a user credentials, and so closing the account must involve deleting that user credentials.  Business processes are becoming less simple minded, however I have yet to see a company that offers access to statements after the account is closed.  Three years would be nice, but in a push 6 months would be sufficient.

Kicking out users: If you look at the big picture, it is really rather short-sighted.  A company always wants to retain a customer if possible.  Someone who cancels an account today, might open another account in the future, particularly if you make it easy.  Why would any company purposefully cut off access to the company’s web site? If the person (who is well confirmed as being a real person who for some period of time actually payed bills) wanted to access your site and the information about your services, why would you block that?  Most sites are scrambling to sign up new members, why would any rational company cut off access by a well known ex-customer?

So when I see the prompt “Would you like to receive these statements electronically?”  I just laugh to myself, and ask back “Will you let me access those statements after the account is closed?  The answer will be the same.”  It is sad.  I would rather NOT have the hassle of the paper, but after being burnt a couple times, it simply makes me more comfortable to know that I will have those records when I need them.

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One Response to Why I Still Get Paper Bills

  1. Really good point, Keith. I see the same problem. My solution to this is to download all statements and store them in Dropbox, which means they are also on my Mac and from there they are backed up into TimeMachine. A drawback? The opposite! There is some stuff where I am pretty happy to be able to shred the physical paper. With a backup, it is very difficult to be sure that I deleted all possible copies of a file.

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