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Financial Statements Work Better on Paper

Financial statements are easier to access and understand when printed on paper and mailed. Learn more about why paper statements still matter in an online era.

Americans are used to having freedom of choice. But when it comes to how financial statements are delivered, increasingly the government or the financial institution, rather than the consumer, is deciding to make those statements available only online.

For example, in 2011 the Social Security Administration eliminated paper statements as a cost-saving measure. But by 2014, after much pushback from Congress, the policy was amended to again mail paper statements; today, however, only select age groups get the statement in the mail, which leaves out the vast majority of working Americans.

“These changes aren’t enough and therefore, Domtar is lobbying Congress in support of paper Social Security statement options for everyone,” says Tom Howard, VP Government Relations, Domtar. “Social Security Earnings Statements are one of the most important financial documents a US worker will see during his/her working career. In addition to providing estimated retirement benefits, the statements have earning information upon which benefits are calculated. Workers need access to this information in case there’s an error. But maybe even more importantly, there are estimates about benefits you and your family may receive in the event of disability or death.”

Another example is the 2016 attempt by the Securities and Exchange Commission to pass Rule 30e-3, which would have permitted an automatic default to electronic delivery of mutual fund shareholder reports.

While Rule 30e-3 ultimately did not pass, it may come up again in future legislative sessions. We advocate for reform because we believe in protecting a citizen’s right to choose to receive essential information on paper, and we believe in protecting the interests of our industry.

The Benefits of Printed Financial Statements

Studies have shown that paper statements offer several benefits over their digital counterparts, including:

Access — According to the Coalition for Paper Options, more than 30 percent of Americans don’t have internet access at home, and 45 percent of seniors don’t own a computer. The percentages are even higher for minority groups, with nearly half of African American and Hispanic populations not having internet at home. Paper statements ensure all people have access to critical financial information, whether it’s Social Security documents, bank statements or investment portfolio summaries.

Accuracy — A 2016 study about printed financial statements released by the National Consumer Law Center showed that people are more likely to review paper statements than online statements, making it easier to notice fees, catch mistakes and spot fraud. “It’s important to receive paper statements in order to be aware of your benefits and have knowledge of any mistakes. If you don’t catch them early, they can be hard, or even impossible to fix,” says Howard.

Behavior — The U.S. Postal Service 2016 Mail Moments survey reported that consumers find it easier to organize and plan bill payments when they receive paper statements in the mail. Paper statements are also critical tools for recordkeeping, proving residency and qualifying for lines of credit.

Security — Paper is a trustworthy delivery method for financial statements and other important documents. A recent survey by Two Sides North America, Inc. found that 76 percent of consumers are concerned that digital records are at risk of being hacked, lost or damaged. Therefore, they prefer paper, which they can safely file at home.

Preference — The Two Sides North America study also showed that 90 percent of U.S. consumers want the right to choose whether they receive important financial information digitally or in print. Surprisingly, 88 percent of 18­­–24 year olds agreed, showing that even digital natives sometimes prefer print.

As surveys continue to show a preference for printed financial statements, our hope is that consumers will have more choice in how they receive vital information in the future.

“We’re lobbying on Capitol Hill to raise awareness of the difficulty with online statements, from the Social Security Administration to banks and the stock market,” Howard says. “There’s a tendency for people to be unaware of their financial standing; it’s out of sight, out of mind if it’s not delivered in the form of a paper statement.”

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