It is worth the paper it’s printed on

While many consumers have taken to internet banking, they still use a paper-based statement to check their finances. Statements are a clearly valuable marketing tool

Consumers receive hundreds of bank statements and bills every year and although many may be dreaded, they serve as an important financial management tool for millions of people.

As it becomes harder to communicate with consumers, marketers may be missing a potential marketing tool by treating bills and statements as a poor relation to more accepted forms of marketing communications.

Recent research by The Henley Centre, conducted for Royal Mail, shows that internet banking has proved particularly successful in the UK, with 24 per cent of consumers claiming to use it as a vital element of their personal financial management. However, it also shows that providing an entirely paperless service would prompt 29 per cent of respondents to switch to an alternative provider offering traditional banking methods and services.

It is already accepted that consumers often do not react well to businesses removing elements of the service mix, such as closing local branches. But whereas many bank branches are under-used, it is apparent that the majority of consumers engage with statements and trust the messages included on them – more so than those from electronic channels.

The shift towards automated systems and away from personal contact with companies has made consumers feel distant from providers of financial services and utilities. This trend can make it difficult for businesses to re-engage with customers when opportunities to sell additional products arise.

Combined with the plethora of marketing messages, the posted bank statement or bill can be an effective platform to achieve cut-through, and to “shorten” the distance between customer and provider. The paper statement can be used as a means through which companies can bridge the gap in personal communications, as it can be tailored to the individual consumer rather than targeting them as if they are a prospect on a mailing list.

Paper statements are most commonly used as a reference for monthly incomings and outgoings, with 64 per cent of consumers verifying the entries on their statements. A further 37 per cent use statements as part of a logging system and cross-check them with receipts. Even online banking consumers have not turned their back on statements, with 67 per cent of users keeping their paper statements for more than a year.

The posted bank statement or bill is an effective tool for making sure brands travel beyond the front gate and into the home. Statements are often passed between members of households and are thus exposed to a larger audience than simply the addressee. This increased audience provides a route into the ever more important consumer network.

Consumers are often open to receiving further communications from their statement providers. Furthermore, marketing messages are not viewed as junk mail when sent as part of, or an accompaniment to, a bill or statement. The research shows that 40 per cent of consumers would like information on special offers relating to their personal finances to be included on their statements. It also supports the view that targeted marketing is most effective, as 34 per cent of consumers would like more personalised statements, from electricity providers specifically. The Making a Statement report by The Henley Centre also reveals that 73 per cent of respondents agree they are more aware of personal finance than they used to be. Many consumers file statements in the home, with 61 per cent of respondents stating that they keep their bank statements for longer than a year.

For this reason, it is important that hard copies of bills and statements are easy to archive and it also means that company messages are guaranteed a long shelf-life as people read their statements again at a later date.

The success of internet banking could lead to the conclusion that paper statements will be superseded. Although people readily use e-mail in the office, it is difficult to see how it could be accepted so easily in the home. The report also highlights that the ritual of going through the post is an enjoyable experience according to 62 per cent of consumers. For 65 per cent of consumers, post was found to not only be easier to manage than e-mail but is also believed to be a more secure and trustworthy medium for important communications.

While consumers report high levels of satisfaction with their banks, building societies and credit card companies, it is evident providers are not maximising customer loyalty. Marketers could capitalise on the potential cross-selling opportunities presented to them.

Many people believe going through bills and statements is part of a routine, and taking in the messages presented on paper is an opportunity. Astonishingly, 1,600 marketing messages are seen each day along with 10 billion spam e-mails. Consumers are left feeling overwhelmed by the information they receive and marketers face a battle for attention, yet 82 per cent of consumers check their bank balance by looking at their posted bank statement at least once a month.

The research highlights how bill and statements providers have retained a strong and engaged audience. However, many are not leveraging the opportunities that statements provide to differentiate themselves in a crowded market and promote further sales opportunities.

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