On Wednesday 11 February 2015 the Keep Me Posted campaign launched its latest report ‘Managing Money Online’. This report provides new and interesting information regarding consumers’ financial behaviour and their understanding of financial information changes depending on whether they use paper or online statements to check their bank balance.
We were intrigued by the findings of this report. Results consistently indicated that consumers were better able to understand and identify important financial information on paper rather than via online bank statements. Looking at some of the statistics, 71 per cent of participants who received their statements by post were able to identify the value of the largest payment to their account in the last month compared to just 30 per cent of those who received their statement online, and 75 per cent of those who received postal statements, compared to 48 per cent who received online statements, were able to correctly assess the financial health of their account.
If these results truly reflect the majority of the population, we should be concerned that some banks and other companies are now forcing consumers to opt in to receiving paper statements or even charging consumers for the privilege of receiving them by post. We wonder what implications this latest report has for consumers. To get an industry perspective, we contacted Consumer Code Approval Scheme (CCAS) sponsor DEMSA – the Debt Management Standards Authority.
Reflecting on the outcomes of ‘Managing Money Online’ Richard Wharton, general secretary of DEMSA, stated he wasn’t surprised by the outcome of the report. Looking at debt management, however, he wasn’t sure at the impact that paper versus online statements really made to those struggling with personal debt.
Wharton asserted that ‘’many consumers who come to deal with debt management don’t really know the extent of their debts… whether this has got anything to do with the fact they have received statements online or on paper is debatable but it is certainly the case that a lot of consumers certainly don’t have the details of their actual debts.”
A large element of the ‘keep me posted’ campaign is promoting the consumers’ right to choose whether they want to receive paper statements, online statements, or both, free of charge. DEMSA supported this message commenting that ‘paper statements should be provided where requested, and people should definitely have the option’. On the issue of charging for statements DEMSA felt that part of the service provided for consumers when opening an account with a bank or other institution should be the option to receive a free paper statement of the account.
Moving away from the report and looking specifically to the role of DEMSA in promoting responsible debt management, we asked what assurances consumers using a DEMSA approved business get that they might not when using another non-approved business in the sector. Wharton noted that DEMSA checked a number of areas stating that consumers ‘get the comfort that an approved business adopts the DEMSA code of conduct, is fully approved by DEMSA and has been authorised by DEMSA in various ways… any consumer coming to use a DEMSA member know that it is, if you like, working to the highest standards in the market’.
Finally, we asked DEMSA for their top tips for any consumer looking to better manage their finances and avoid falling into debt. They said ‘the key issue is to be aware of your debt, make sure you know exactly where you are and plan it appropriately. Don’t be swayed by the opportunities presented by credit’.