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Digital or Paper? Campaign Fights for Right to Choose

Do you prefer to receive important documents digitally or on paper? It may be a strange question to ask in an electronic newsletter like Ahead of the Curve! Yet—as reported recently in TAPPI's Over the Wire (which is also an e-newsletter)—the right for consumers to choose a preference is important for our industry.


Unfortunately, corporations don't often give consumers a choice between digital and paper communications. The default is frequently digital, and consumers can find it difficult to revert to paper communications. To make matters more challenging, the choice to receive paper often comes at a cost. That is where the Keep Me Posted campaign (Chicago, Ill., USA) comes in.

Keep Me Posted
Keep Me Posted advocates for your right to choose how you receive information: printed or digitally. The campaign also asks companies to eliminate the extra fees associated with paper communications and to ask consumers for consent before replacing paper with digital documents.

"We are a pro-citizens'-rights campaign. We are standing up for people who may be disadvantaged by their lack of choice on how to receive important communications, and for people who don't agree to the switch to digital that is being imposed on them," said Phil Riebel, president of Two Sides North America, the organization that developed and operates the North American campaign.

"Our goal is to generate grassroots support to protect the consumer's right to choose between paper, digital, and any other available delivery method," said Riebel. "We present independent research to quantify negative impacts and penalties for consumers who are denied paper communications, and we monitor service providers' digital communication policies, both to educate consumers and to urge companies to do the right thing by giving consumers free and viable choices."

The Digital Divide
Many consumers report difficulties in using new payment technologies; many also require paper communications. Older adults and people with disabilities may have challenges accessing electronic records. Such challenges also exist for low-income and rural residents who can't afford or, in some cases, even access home internet services and/or computers.

According to a study from Pew Research, only 45 percent of adults in the United States with annual incomes of less than US$30,000 used broadband at home. This compares to 67 percent of those with incomes between US$30,000 and US$49,999; the percentages go up as income increases. In Canada, 64 percent of families in the lowest 20 percent income bracket used the internet at home compared to a national average of nearly 87 percent.

Even for those who prefer digital communications, storing or accessing sensitive documents online could lead to disaster in the event of data breaches and identity theft, both of which are becoming more common every year. A study by the Insurance Information Institute found that a record-breaking 16.7 million people in the United States were victims of identity fraud in 2017. Also that year, more Social Security numbers were exposed than credit card numbers.

The Paper Trail
In another survey reported on the Keep Me Posted website, consumers evidenced a clear preference for paper over electronic notices when it comes to bills and financial statements. The non-profit group Consumer Action performed the survey of more than 2,600 people.

Up to three-quarters of those surveyed opted for bills to arrive by mail. For each of nine types of bills and invoices, consumers chose paper over digital delivery: insurance (66 percent), utilities (63 percent), medical bills (74 percent), property taxes (71 percent), internet services (51 percent), mortgages (45 percent), motor vehicle renewals (69 percent), credit cards (61 percent) and phone bills (56 percent).
"Even more compelling is the fact that respondents accessed our survey online and still prefer to receive paper statements for most important bills and notices," noted Consumer Action's Director of National Priorities, Linda Sherry.

Many of those who gave reasons for their paper preference mentioned the ease of viewing and accessing the bills for future reference. Paper statements help some people remember to pay their bills on time. "We manage numerous accounts for which paper files are kept. We have power outages fairly regularly and sometimes need answers when there is no access to my records kept electronically," explained one survey respondent.

What's more, the way consumers receive the bill does affect how likely they are to review the details. More than three-quarters (78 percent) of those who receive bills by mail said they review the transactions printed on paper statements. Of those who receive bills electronically, fewer than half—only 43 percent—said they go online to review their transaction details.

The only category where respondents prefer to receive information electronically—51 percent—was data use and privacy notices.

Under the federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (E-Sign) Act, if the law requires that a statement or disclosure be made in writing, financial institutions can substitute electronic statements for paper ones, but only with a customer's consent. As a member of the Keep Me Posted campaign, Consumer Action supports an individual's right to choose between receiving important financial information online or in print and believes that paper should be the default.

"Customers should get paper bills and statements until they proactively consent to electronic delivery," said Sherry. "Bottom line, consumers need to know that they have the right to switch back to paper at any time they desire."

What Can You Do?
If you would like to join the efforts of the Keep Me Posted campaign to keep your right to choose paper communications, here are some ways you can take action:

Sign up for campaign updates and to share your personal experiences.
• Ask your service providers to note your preference to receive paper communications.
• Follow and share the Keep Me Posted campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

For a modest investment of $174, receive more than US$ 1000 in benefits in return.
Visit www.tappi.org/join for more details.