The unspoken truth behind the paper and digital divide

When was the last time you checked your bank balance by requesting a paper statement be posted to you from your bank? Or when you went to the post office to pay your electricity bill? While for most of us these arduous processes have been simplified and accelerated by the digital world, there are some industries and aspects of business acumen which remain paper filled.

Many of you would have ridden the digital wave as it was gaining momentum – logging on to your internet banking account to pay a phone bill or transfer cash; downloading the latest episodes of Game of Thrones from iTunes; or even doing your Christmas shopping from your laptop. Yet despite most of us now carrying around powerful computers in our pockets, paper still seems to spark news headlines.

I was intrigued earlier this year when CBA’s decision to start charging for paper statements became a national news headline. Perhaps most interestingly was the language that was used, such as describing the charge as “mean”. And that wasn’t just reserved for the banks; the likes of Telstra and Energy Australia have also received a similarly emotional response when announcing their move to get customers to pay for paper.

This evolution has been particularly fascinating when watching it through the lens of the share registry industry, who have remained one of the few paper kingdoms in the business world. While some Company Secretaries and shareholders have embraced the move into digital, it still remains a paper rich environment despite the fact that it’s faster, simpler and more economical to go online.

Why?

Whilst you might assume the registry paper kingdoms are being maintained by a sense of history or people’s general reluctance to change, the truth is a lot more sinister.

In short, traditional registry providers stand to make a lot more money by keeping their clients paper based. When disbursement revenue and margins are so excessive, why would traditional registry providers want to move their client’s shareholders online?

Despite the fact that there are some circumstances where postal mail is unavoidable, the reality is that many of the registry industry’s current processes and communications would benefit from a digital makeover, which means the days of traditional registry providers avoiding online channels are numbered.

Thankfully the rise of digitally savvy citizens is going to force a change even if the traditional registry providers try to desperately hold onto their excessive disbursement margins. The reality is that company secretaries and shareholders have greater digital references points now across a range of industries, so will quickly become intolerant of how outdated these traditional practices are and just how much it is costing them – both financially and from a shareholder experience perspective.

When you look at the pace in which we are requesting, absorbing and distributing information, people will not stand for paper being the weight that holds them back. For the providers that prioritise their own margins over the benefits to their clients, the paper and digital divide will continue to widen until it becomes near impossible to cross.

James Barrie, Director Business Development, Automic