Paperless Finances, How it ought to be done

Referring to the Wall Street Journal, Sept 16 2009, AP, T-Mobil Drops Plan for Paper Bililing Fee, p D4. The point being made was that T-Mobil wanted to encourage users to "go paperless" meaning that they would receive communications including billing statements by logging in to a web site. They thought about charging for paper but dropped the idea after some study.

My comments which were not printed.

I am pressed from many sources to go paperless. Banks, brokers, telecom, utilities, credit card services, all want it that way.

But. . . When I check out the details I almost universally find that without the paper I will have to visit a web site, login with a multi mouse-click username and password interface, and then download what is usually an Adobe PDF (portable document format) file that I can't do much with but print. Often it's even impossible to copy and paste the data.

That's the wrong idea. Provide the data to me in a form that I can use in my personal spreadsheet or other financial software, perhaps something I write myself. And remember that one reason for the periodic reports is that, perish the thought, there might be lawyers and courts involved should we have a misunderstanding. When you send me digital data you should use one of the available cryptographic techniques for signing the file. You should also make it clear in your contract with me that you will honor that signature in a court of law.

One way you could easily do it is to make space in your computer for storage of my public cryptographic key - RSA, DES, or something else that is well defined in the open-source community. With that you could send secure e-mails or provide a login IP (Internet protocol) address that I can connect to and download periodically without worrying about the World Wide Web and browser compatibility.

And. . . ASCII text is a standard for data communication that works everywhere, even on old Macs. Web formats (HTML) are almost always ambiguous and browser-dependent. Pictures, corporate logos, blank checks for borrowing money from you, exhortations to use less water on your lawn belong in the U. S. Mail at your expense. If a PDF file of my records contains that stuff I will refuse to download it.

So, T-Mobil, if you want to go paperless, offer your customers something for it. The change will happen overnight.

Your comments are welcome and might appear here depending on how I feel. Send them to Doug McNutt. Include "Paperless" in the subject line to get by spam filters.