Paperless Perils

By Eirikur Eiriksson

Published 2020-06-17

You are a model citizen, caring for the environment. Every day you are sorting refuse and recyclables, no excessive usage of fossil fuels, the electric car is only used when necessary. You shop responsibly, often checking if the packaging is recyclable before reading the ingredients. Preferring walking or cycling to work when possible, working remotely instead of travelling, you feel that you really are contributing your weight on the environmental scales.

And of course, you have gone “Paperless”!

Businesses have also recognised that offering environmentally friendly options is good for both the business and the reputation. Most institutions, core businesses and utility providers are now offering a paperless option, the customer knows his environmental footprint is reduced, hence both are happier, and everyone is a winner.

At the first glance, the paperless option is fantastic. No longer will paper statements and the delivery of those induce cost to the businesses, a cost that eventually end up on the customers’ tariffs. The environmental footprint is reduced, and we are saving millions of trees every year. Neither is the customers forced to store volumes of paper nor to spend time on sort through those, discarding copies that are no longer needed.

Paperless has not enjoyed the success anticipated, with only a minority of customers opting for the tree-hugging digital option. Figures and estimates from some of the most paper reliant sectors place the general participation in the vicinity of 30%, and that is nothing short of a failure. Several reasons have been mentioned explaining this low take-up rate, most noticeably legacy systems, regulatory requirements, lack of internet access, security concerns, downstream external dependencies and customers’ reluctance and resistance to changes. We all know that changes can have unforeseen consequences:

In the 1980s, Carlsberg stopped adding vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to their products (beer), resulting in some of their workers developing scurvy.

As legitimate as those explanations are, none of those addresses the real obstacle, a problem that will until rectified, hinder widespread adaptation. A holistic analysis of the end to end process makes the fundamental flaw stand out, and for many, when realising what is missing, will result in a Homer Simpson type “D’oh!” moment.  The missing part is the offering of a fully paperless options that has the equivalent or better accountability than the printed hard copy.

As businesses have gone “paperless”, their customers are often left in a limbo. The reason being the inherent reliance on their produce of “paper”. Applications and services requests often require statements, utility bills and invoices from the beforementioned, as a proof of residence, identity, and eligibility. Most of the time, the demand is for printed originals or a hard copy of the originals.

Just as documents can be digitally signed, certified digital copies can be produced. Regardless of the nature of the document, being it a utility bill, a policy document, a bank statement, a payslip or a contract, the requirement must be that if offering a paperless option, then there must also be a certified digital equivalent. Paperless is an example of an obvious gap that can be covered without much of an effort once it is realised.  A holistic analysis of the end-to-end process is the only answer. Something that businesses must realise.

High Skills Partners’ articles are provided for your interest and do not constitute advice, legal or otherwise. We aim to be informative, thought-provoking and to reflect our experience, whilst striving for accuracy and correctness.
© 2020 High Skills Partners Limited

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