walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

Transactions and the Postal Service

Last October, I was finally caught up enough with the ongoing series of crises that had been my life for several years to dig into the backlog. I got rid of books. I replaced furniture (and got rid of some without replacing it). I went through paperwork. I went through photos. I purged closets. Etc.

I also got a password manager and started migrating everything I could from paper mail to online transactions. This is, hands down, one of the best things I've ever done. I did it to reduce the paper-in-process (which I knew was a part of the ongoing clutter problem), but I also had in the back of my mind that I just wasn't really confident about the postal service and paper checks being a permanent way of doing business.

Along the way, I've discovered a number of things (Check21 -- who knew? The end of fleets of airplanes whose sole reason for existing was to move paper checks from point A to point B and then back to point A again) and I was reminded of a few things (I tried the whole get-away-from-paper thing back in 2003, and it sort of failed, because everything kept reverting to paper and I got sick of fighting it). Lately, I've started to get interested in how many other people are going through the same process I am -- and how many other people are not.

I can say one thing from reading about Check 21: people really don't write checks at point of sale any more. But the reduction in check writing to pay bills through the mail has barely dropped at all, and people aren't really expecting it to drop. That is, as near as I can tell, the wonk-y community that thinks and writes about payment systems doesn't see Everyone doing what I've been doing lately. Are they right?

When I look at comments in response to people advocating much deeper cuts in USPS, on the basis that we can do all this stuff online anyway, I see an incredible amount of hostility, and it isn't limited to one end of the spectrum. I interpret that to mean that whatever the reason given, the people who are hostile to cuts are hostile at least in part because they, personally, would be dramatically affected by big reductions in USPS. Once you go relentlessly paper free -- once you set up everything to be paid online, and bills to be delivered online and blah blah bleeping blah -- that fear goes away. I can say that for sure, because that's been my personal experience (and it wasn't, honestly, one that I expected). We all like social justice (hey, pretend, okay? so I don't have to question your merit as a human), but when we're defending things because poor people will be screwed but we won't, it tends to look a little different than when we're defending ourselves as well as people who have less than we do.

And I see a lot of highly personal fear in response to the prospect of deep cuts at USPS. Until we see a big transition to online transactions (bill receipt and payment), B2C and B2B -- a lot bigger than we've seen so far -- further cuts to service days will be hotly contested in a way that Saturday cuts are not being contested.

Here's an interesting bit from 2010:

http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/05/20/online-bill-paying-makes-people-happier-research-shows/

I don't know that I totally agree, but I was always a pay-it-when-it-arrives person, so I don't have the stack-of-old-bills-all-the-money-disappears-at-once experience. The part I _do_ agree with is this:

"And if you're a company that has been trying to get your customers to go paperless, understand the reasons they're not doing it: they don't trust your website, think it's too complicated, and worry about not having access to archived bills and statements. Deal with those factors. Then don't appeal to their greener instincts"

Realistically, this isn't enough. To get everyone converted, we're going to have to quit making people set up payment information from the websites of who they owe money to. It needs to work better from the bank side (or the non-bank side, for users of things like Mint, or Simple, which I could see being the basis for a really big future change).

ETA: I've seen conflicting information about payments by check vs. electronic payments. I'm still trying to track down current information.

ETAYA: Customer switches to EBPP, fails to receive an e-notification that a statement is available/payment is due, fails to make payment, gets late fee, customer service is Not Nice about it, customer goes elsewhere.

http://blog.infotrends.com/?p=2575

I had exactly the same thing happen when I was living on Jackson St in Seattle: a paper bill never arrived, so I didn't send a check that month, I got a late fee, I called customer service, customer service was Not Nice about it, I went elsewhere.

So this is by no means unique to EBPP, however, it's entirely possible it happens more with EBPP than with paper. Hard to know for sure.
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