Surely We Can Do Better Than E-Delivery

Digital is always better. That’s been my worldview for years now and digital never disappoints. Well, almost never. One use case that really hasn’t proven itself yet is the electronic delivery of documents or e-delivery.

By all rights, e-delivery should be a win-win. The cost-efficiency benefit to the investment company is clear, and investment company marketers have long tried to persuade shareholders of the benefits to them. E-delivery (whose very name suggests how long this movement has been underway) offers certain, fast and secure delivery, it’s convenient and it's good for the environment. But no matter the size of the sweepstakes we run to coax shareholders into turning off the paper, they aren’t budging.

The majority of brokerage, employer-sponsored retirement plan, life insurance, mutual fund and variable annuity firms report less than 10% adoption of e-delivered quarterly statements, annual

reports, prospectuses, tax documents, transaction confirmations and other client communications. This is according to Dalbar, Inc.’s 2011 national e-Delivery Benchmarks study.

In its current form, e-delivery just isn’t a compelling offer. Some would go so far as to say that it’s a user experience that’s inferior to receiving mail in a physical mailbox. (I know, that’s like a dagger straight to the heart, right?) Surely, ye old mailbox can be improved upon.

The Mailbox As Aggregator

I followed a tweet yesterday from NICSA president Theresa Hamacher to a 9-minute video that offers some hope. It’s a Traders Magazine interview on a SIFMA conference site with Broadridge Vice President Rob Krugman providing an update on a Broadridge/Pitney Bowes project called Volly.

This initiative proposes a “digital mail” solution to serve as a virtual mailbox for all electronically delivered statements. Its premise: When the industry seized upon e-delivery's efficiency, we overlooked the value of the physical mailbox as an aggregator.

E-delivery—which requires multiple firms sending individual e-delivered links to documents randomly and one at a time to email in-boxes—introduces inconvenience and complexity for clients. That's the opposite of what digital typically does for a process.

A Krugman blog post on the Volly site elaborates, “On average, consumers have approximately 20 different relationships for which they receive periodic communications (bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages, utility bills, brokerage accounts, insurance, etc.). In a traditional world, this information is delivered to a single mailbox that the consumer checks daily. E-delivery requires that same consumer to check their email, remember one of 20 different usernames and passwords, log on to the corporation’s website, hope the email does not end up in a junk folder, and then view their statements and bills. Arghhhhhh!”

'Digital Mail'

Volly is a technology solution that has been circulating as a concept for a while. CNBC personality Jim Cramer raved about it in the course of a corporate earnings interview with Pitney Bowes President and CEO Murray Martin a year ago. The timetable seems to have slipped some. Martin said we’d see something in 2011, and in this May interview Krugman says the full-scale launch will be next January.

(I should say that I have no information about Volly beyond what I heard in this video and read on the Volly site. I'm simply intrigued by its aspiration to serve up e-delivery 2.0 and because digital mail could be another communication channel for the digital marketer. Do you have any Volly or other e-delivery insight? Please—comment below.)


The image above is a screenshot because the video isn’t embeddable. Before you head over to the interview on the SIFMA site, here are a few Krugman lines to listen for and their time markers:

4:58 “By pushing content to a single location, you have a network effect. Rather than Firm A, Firm B and Firm C each spending several million dollars trying to migrate their client base to electronic delivery and doing so rather ineffectively, because they’re not getting the returns they’d like, we’re able to have all those firms work together.”

6:02 “Let’s be honest, there’s no differentiation in e-delivery. Where there’s differentiation is when you open the envelope, if you will, and what these new services enable firms to do is treat this simply as a new channel and almost create apps. That’s a good way to think about it. If I’m Firm A, I can introduce functionality and provide functionality that builds around my statements and confirms that I’m sending out to really differentiate myself and who I am and enhance the relationship rather than it simply being a regulatory distribution I’m forced to do.”

7:30 “We should see 7%-8% of all [not just investment company] transaction documents migrate to digital mail within the first two years…in several European countries greater than 90% of households have signed up for digital mailboxes."

8:26 “We’re very limited in what we can do in e-delivery. In e-delivery we send out links, we don’t want to send out too much information in it. In some of these new channels, we can basically integrate a statement with a financial advisor message with an upsell message.”