From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Going paperless means, "Email me a PDF", not "Email me your URL"

I love going paperless.  When it's done properly, anyway.

My tiny little Austin, Texas lawn service does it correctly!  Ashley emails me once a month, thanking me for my business, and attaches a PDF invoice.  And I send them an electronic check.

While Wells Fargo, the largest bank in the world, does not...  Wells Fargo sends me an email, politely informing me that it is now my responsibility to log into their customer service portal, click through 3 links and then download my latest statement.  I'm sorry, but that's crap.

The positive, "green" environmental impact, saving some paper, is lovely of course.  What I really appreciate is having my own digital archive of information, from bills to legal documents, especially when coupled with something like Google Docs, that I can use to search, anywhere, any time.

That said, I find it completely unacceptable when accounts offer/suggest/insist that you "go paperless" with them, but rather than emailing you an HTML or PDF snapshot, they instead send you a link to log into their website and view your paperless account information.

This is, frankly, a very insidious form of vendor lock-in that cloud computing has invited into our daily lives, and most of us haven't even noticed it yet.

The burden has shifted from your account managers pushing (mailing) information to you, and instead it now resides on you to pull that information from their archive regularly and archive it on your end.



Do you see the difference?

What happens when you close that account?  What happens when that entity goes out of business?  Or gets acquired?  Merges with a different entity?   Automatically expires some information as too-old-to-be-archived-any-longer?  Rolls out some completely unnecessary changes to their website interface which requires Internet Explorer? Or deprecates the archive functionality entirely?

Or worse, what happens when unethical business practices affect your personal account information and your data gets modified under you?  It's pretty trivial for a sysadmin or rogue process to update some records in a database and comprehensively regenerate millions of reports...

Many people trusted Bernie Madoff with their money...
That's right -- you may no longer have accurate access to your own account information, if you didn't download, snapshot, and back it up yourself when it was originally published.

I learned this lesson the hard way.  I recently rolled over my 401(k) from a previous employer's plan manager.  And when I did so, they terminated my online account access.  I certainly understand why, as I no longer had any funds under management.  The consequence, though, is that I immediately lost access to several years of digital statements associated with my account.  Poof.

I'm sorry, but, "Yes, I want to go paperless" means, "Email me a PDF" not, "Email me a link to your damn website once a month".

p.s. And while you're implementing that, how about sending me something machine readable, in addition to a PDF?  Oh, and please sign and encrypt that email.  I know, I know...  Techmology is hard.  I'm asking way too much...  Arg.


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