Is it time to say goodbye to paper mail?
Pitney Bowes is planning a new service that would issue every household an online mailbox. Will consumers embrace digital mail?
What if all your mail came, not on pieces of paper delivered to your doorstep, but in digital documents sent to a secure online location?
The days of digital mail may not be as far away as you think. The company that invented the postage meter 90 years ago is creating a new national network of secure digital mailboxes, with one assigned to every address in the United States.
People have been paying bills online for years, and more businesses and municipalities want to send your bills and statements online because it saves them money.
Volly, the new Pitney Bowes service, and competing services don't send you e-mail but operate as digital versions of the post office. Your bills and statements, instead of going to the metal box in front of your house, will go to a virtual mailbox in the "cloud" in cyberspace. To get your mail, you'll go to your online mailbox and use one password to unlock everything.
Pitney Bowes' multi-platform Volly will allow consumers to receive, pay and organize all their bills with bank-like security. In addition to bill-related features like a pay calendar and reminders, customers will also have an option to opt in to catalogs and coupons from the companies of their choice.
So far, there is no indication that the U.S. Postal Service is getting into the digital mailbox business (though it might be a better long-term strategy than selling gift cards). In other countries, such as Norway, the postal services are developing digital mail services.
A competitor to Volly, Zumbox, was launched in 2009 and recently received a $9.7 million infusion of capital, Matthew Lynley reported at VentureBeat. Because Pitney Bowes already works with 74% of the major U.S. high-volume mailers, it could be a strong competitor -- and make the idea of digital mailboxes a lot more mainstream. Its service will launch later this year.
But Lynley is not so sure the services are needed. He writes:
Most companies already offer e-mail billing and have an option for their customers that want to pay bills online. It is another way to kill off the ruthlessly inefficient system that is paper mail, but it seems sort of redundant in an era that is already dominated by e-mail and electronic messaging.
The key question is whether consumers are ready to let go of all those pieces of paper. Banks, credit card companies, investment companies and even utilities have been offering customers incentives to give up paper and receive their statements electronically.
But, as Tamara E. Holmes reports at CreditCards.com, while about 50% of consumers use online bill paying, only about 15% have opted out of paper statements.
Many customers are worried about the security of online documents, but MSN Money columnist Liz Pulliam Weston points out that paperless banking is more secure.
"Identity theft experts have been telling us for years that sending sensitive financial documents through the mail is a bad idea. Paper account statements and credit card bills often give mail thieves all the information they need to hijack our finances," she wrote.
Do you pay bills online? Do you get statements and bills online? If not, what's your hesitation? Does the idea of a single virtual mailbox appeal to you?
Financial institutions currently usually offer a history of transactions. Given the corporate tendency to cut costs, one might expect this to be discontinued by some future cost cutting measures. It seems we are being told to expect less and less (low interest rates and fewer services) from the financial industry while profits soar.
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