Paper Consumption and Digital Culture

I recently had the pleasure to chat with the team at Standard Chartered Banks’s Asif Saleem about SCB’s exciting new initiative Statement for Life aimed at reducing the banks paper consumption, and putting paper to better use. Check out the great little animation that takes you through the intention of the initiative. The concept is simple. Sign up for eStatements and the bank will use the reduced paper consumption to support educational programs. A digital call for action, attached to an emotional cause. The program appeals to me on a two fronts:

1. Digital Culture Change

Legacy thinking of banks to date has been a key reason consumers don’t use more digital services today. Poor user experience online, branch dependent processes and monthly paper statements are just a few examples. Banks have been reluctant to evolve their thinking creating huge chasms between the consumers’ readiness to adopt, and the actual offerings bank put into the market. Just like passbooks and checks, paper statements are facing an inevitable death. As consumers make the transition to digital alternatives, the need for physical historical record keeping will change creating an opportunity in the market for services like to offer historical record keeping as a part of their service. Standard Chartered’s Statement for Life is a step in the right direction, encouraging consumers to shift away from the need to receive a paper statement for a good cause. Over time this will change the bank’s consumer norms to a point where all new accounts will come with eStatements only.

Saleem stated “We have been working on reducing our own paper consumption within the bank and have made some really good progress with our overall paper consumption down by 50% over the last 3 years. This perhaps also is one of the main point behind coming up with Statement for Life where we decided to extend this to our customers as well.” Definitely a very progressive thought for a banker. “In addition it also reinforces the message of ease of use for our customers who receive eStatements via email (which courtesy of Gmail or other email providers can easily be stored for “life”). However most importantly it is also a call to action to our customers to pledge to turn all their Paper Statements to eStatements..” Numbers suggest that Standard Chartered Global eStatement penetration is above 40%, not a bad result for a bank that operates in some of the toughest markets, China, Singapore, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong and Africa.

Over the past few years Standard Chartered has demonstrated a different way of thinking, bring to market products like Breeze, partnering with Telco in emerging market Mobile Money and moving into the deals and wish list space. But who could forget the ‘Coolest Intern in the World’s Coolest Intern', which saw the Standard Chartered brand sky rocket on Twitter. I put the challenge to Standard Chartered to apply this thinking to other paper hungry parts of the bank, like Account Opening, Mortgage Applications and Branches. Maybe Microsoft’s dream of the paperless office isn’t such a fantasy after all.

2. It’s for a good cause

Community and Social causes are constantly on the rise, but in a bank the cause usually orientates around good PR for the Annual Report. I am a big believer in practically uses of effort, dollars and philanthropic endeavours, particularly in the nations I feel need it the most. South Asia remains close to my heart, not just because my wife is half Indian, but because over the past 10 years I have spent a great deal of time on the ground in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. I love the people there, I love their culture, their nature but most of all I love their sense of community. Western countries have a great deal to learn from the developing world on community spirit.

Statements for Life, connects the call to action, sign up for eStatements, with a real life meaningful cause, in this case the enablement of education through the provision of books. This is very powerful as a message, as a bank customer in Singapore can easily relate to the idea that they no longer receive their four-page paper statement, because that paper is now being allocated for a better humanitarian cause. Saleem mentions “Statement for life as a concept originated in Singapore and is more a play on the premise that “paper has a better use,” which in this case is being used to educate girls in India.” Saleem continues, “Teams in India and Singapore have collaborated to support a local program in India called, GOAL, a project to donate books for pledges made. GOAL, is a global program which uses sport and life skills to transform the lives of adolescent girls. Launched in Delhi, it is live in four countries – India, Nigeria, Jordan and China and has impacted the lives of more than 14,000 girls, and we hope to help GOAL meet its target of positively impacting the lives of 100,000 girls by 2013.”

In a digital evolution, this is music to my ears. Linking the education of the developing nations to the digital behavior shift adds the emotional connection to the call for action. Maybe there is a way to plug the progression of this goal in a way is constantly transparent to the very people that sign-up for the cause. Something as simple as numbers shared on Facebook or Twitter would not only give a constant connection and feedback to the cause, but also drive the bank’s socially responsible agenda through viral distribution on social networks.

I was humbling please to hear Saleem close with “We strongly believe in our commitment to our local communities and with Statement of Life we are looking forward to extend this program to other countries within the Group. By doing this we want to give it back to our communities that we operate in” So look out for Statements for Life growth in other countries.