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How Suitable Is Email For Delivering Bills And Statements?

In the past, I’ve given several reasons to explain my preference for printed bills and statements (hyperlink to personal blog post not included). When I received the following SMS recently, I began wondering if there was a more deep-rooted and fundamental reason behind my aversion for e-bills and e-statements. 

"Your password is a combination of first 3 letters of your name followed by last 5 digits of your registered alternate mobile number."

First three letters of my name … alternate mobile number … eh? I was wondering if this would grant me access to the deepest recesses of Fort Knox. But, as it were, it just turned out to be the "out-of-band" instructions to construct the password required to open my telephone line's e-bill, which was separately emailed to me as a PDF attachment. 

Given that the e-bill is sent to my email to which only I have access, I honestly don’t see the need for the biller – a leading telecom carrier – to insist on a password to open it, let alone demand an obtuse one like this. However, since many other billers – banks, utilities, and TELCOs alike – seem to be following the same practice, I must be missing something here.

But that’s not the point.

The average email reader is accustomed to opening attachments with a single click or a double-click for as long as they've been using email. By asking him / her to enter a password to open e-bill and e-statement attachments, the point is, the biller is expecting them to make a major change from their normal email usage behavior. To me, this raises fundamental questions around the suitability of email as a channel for delivering bills and statements.

Which is why I’m not surprised to learn that e-bill adoption hasn’t entered the mainstream several years after it was introduced. According to this NetBanker report, “bill/statement delivery … has remained stubbornly paper-based, despite a decade of trying to coerce consumers to do without the paper security blanket.”  As for the environment-friendliness theme used by most billers to spur adoption of e-statements, this Forrester report is spot on when it says, ”‘Green’ messaging is fashionable but less compelling to potential adopters.”

Asking customers to use a simple password doesn’t necessarily help. Let me take the example of this Top 3 bank in India where the account number itself serves as the password. Now, I’ve three primary accounts with this bank. On top of that, the bank automatically creates deposit accounts whenever the balance in the primary accounts exceeds a certain threshold figure. For whatever reason - maybe because it hasn’t implemented relationship banking - this bank sends one e-statement per account, which means I end up with several e-mails every month. Since the password is the same as the account number, neither the body of the email nor the attachment filename carry the account number. As a result, I’ve no way of knowing which email contains the statement of which account and, hence, which account number to use as the password to open a given attachment.

Of course, every time I receive an e-statement from this bank, I could always enter all my account numbers one after the other with the guarantee that one of them will work. 

You can understand the kind of friction this can cause. No wonder I simply prefer to open the envelope and read the printed statement. No wonder also that I belong to the segment of 37% of account holders who receive a paper statement today and who say, according to this Forrester report, that they will never abandon paper in favor of online statements.

Every time someone from the aforesaid TELCO or bank calls me with a request to opt for discontinuation of printed statements, I politely decline. When they press me for reasons, I simply direct them to my blog!


Comments: (2)

Michael Kyritsis
Michael Kyritsis - ACI - London 05 January, 2012, 08:09Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

”‘Green’ messaging is fashionable but less compelling to potential adopters.” - I agree 100%, actually if paper were the real issue companies would print on recycled paper.  I do prefer e-statements, for convenience - I can search through them, copy them into spreadsheets to look for trends, etc. And I can access my statements from work or from home when I'm completing my expenses claims.

Any attachments should be password-protected, because emails could be transmitted in the clear from the biller to your ISP. Arguably the biller should give each of its customers the ability to turn password-protection on or off in their profile, and definately any system that requires you to use passwords must allow you to change your password to one of your choosing.


Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 09 January, 2012, 16:06Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes


Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, I haven't come across a single biller offering the facility to change e-bill or -statement password to one of my choosing! I'm not even sure if it's technically possible to change passwords for 'asynch' items like these. Please let me know if you're familiar with any. Thanks in advance.

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