E-statements have come a long way since their initial approval by NCUA in 2000. Originally conceived of as a way to extend the convenience of electronic channels and save postage costs, e-statements are rapidly gaining acceptance as an important communication channel. As members' email inboxes become increasing cluttered, credit unions are leveraging e-statements as an important opt-in tool for communicating with members on a monthly basis.
The Early Years
Typically sent as a static PDF file, e-statements were a way for financial institutions to save the costs of producing and mailing a monthly statement to members. E-statements were implemented at credit unions in a variety of ways - some credit unions even allowed members to choose both online and paper statements. With continued postage increases, financial institutions began to focus on e-statement promotions to increase trial and awareness. At the beginning, the barriers were many:
- Separate e-statement, bill pay and online banking programs meant too many passwords for members
- Lack of broadband access meant slower statement viewing times
- Fears about phishing and identity theft
- Difficulties with downloading or viewing statements
As broadband access and online banking usage grew, faster transaction capability fueled the adoption and growth of the self-service online channel. Technological advances enabled the inclusion of check images, XML formats, better design capabilities with smaller files, and a smoother access within online banking.
Growth of the Opt-Out Movement
Already a requirement for some products or services such as frequent flier programs, consumers today are well-acquainted with the use of e-statements. As familiarity and comfort levels with both online banking and e-statements increased, more credit unions began to require e-statements for members with certain types of “e-accounts”. The decreasing cost of storing electronic copies of member statements has enabled credit unions to counteract one barrier to use by enabling longer-term access to e-statements from previous years. Growing awareness of identity theft and prevention methods has encouraged members to use e-statements to avoid mail theft and more closely monitor their accounts.
Instead of focusing on getting members to sign up for e-statements, some credit unions are requiring e-statements for members who use online banking. Known as the opt-out method, these credit unions simply list e-statements as a requirement for use, and include the acceptance of e-statements in their documentation. Even credit unions who switched over their entire online banking population to e-statements have found little resistance. Online banking users are typically checking their balances frequently and many aren't checking their monthly statement regularly. The savings can be substantial for credit unions – many are paying at least $1.00 per month to create and mail a paper statement. Once members agree to accept e-statements, few tend to drop out.
Credit unions became more adept at both asking for emails and using email to communicate with members and prospective members.
E-Statements Today: A Strategic Communications Tool
Credit unions are finding their monthly e-statement communications as well as periodic marketing or educational emails to be a valuable way to keep in touch with members.
Marketing messages sent via e-mail have the following benefits:
- Cost-effective marketing: far cheaper than mail, and more likely to be read
- Immediate call to action: members can click for more information or be encouraged to apply online
- Speed of development: an email can be designed, tested, and sent far quicker than direct mail
- Quicker way to communicate service disruptions or potential issues affecting members, such as fraud alerts
- Ability to reinforce the credit union brand on an ongoing basis: Monthly e-statement messages can be designed to support the credit union's brand and reinforce the benefits of credit union membership.
Many credit unions are using more advanced database marketing capabilities to target e-mail communications to specific member segments or provide requested topics for financial education. The ability to split member email lists into groups and test different messages and designs allows credit unions to more effectively design email promotions that appeal to members.
The environmental aspect of e-statements is becoming more important to growing numbers of members. While credit unions are still finding success with ongoing e-statement sweepstakes or promotions, the difficulty is motivating members to act rather than educating them on the benefits.
A recent article by Digital Mailer discusses one credit union's success with an email promotion to their members. A complimentary Internet Strategy Consortium Study Report explores ideas for increasing e-statement adoption. A future webinar on this important member communication channel will be held in May.