By Maria Bruno-Britz, Bank Systems & Technology
Some banks are getting a bit creative in their efforts to make customers go electronic. Sovereign Bank (Wyomissing, Pa.), along with partner CheckFree (Atlanta), will donate $1 to The National Arbor Day Foundation for each new electronic bill that customers activate at Sovereign Bank from April 1 through May 31. Each donation will help cover the cost of planting one new tree.Through the Go Paperless campaign, consumers can sign up with participating billers to receive e-bills at the Sovereign Bank website or at any of its branches in the Northeast. Kevin Sander, director of corporate partnerships with The National Arbor Day Foundation, puts things into perspective: "It takes 24 trees to produce one ton of virgin printing and office paper," he said in a statement. "Obviously, businesses and consumers won't ever stop needing paper, but technology is helping make an impact to reduce unnecessary paper usage and waste. Electronic bill payment is a key element in that quest, and we commend CheckFree and Sovereign Bank for their commitment to helping conserve our natural resources." Electronic bill payment and presentment appears to be gaining more appeal among consumers, according to a study conducted by Harris Interactive and sponsored by CheckFree. The 2007 Consumer Bill Payment Survey showed that 52 percent of e-bill users agreed that receiving bills in electronic form helps the environment by saving paper and energy. Thirty-nine percent of consumers receiving e-bills at bank websites said they no longer receive a mailed copy of that bill. "People today are much more environmentally aware than ever, and are looking for ways--no matter how big or small--to do their part, from recycling to buying a hybrid car. Sovereign, together with our technology partner CheckFree, hopes that consumers will take the 'Go Paperless' challenge and start paying and receiving bills online as a way of doing their part to improve the environment," said Marshall Soura, managing director of the Global Solutions Group, Sovereign Bank. The initiative certainly has wide-spread appeal on several levels. Of course, there's the conservationist argument for electronic bill payment and presentment (EBPP) in that it does save trees to a degree. Plus, the $1 donation will help replenish the nation's forests. But not to be forgotten in all the earth-friendly speak is the fact that EBPP can save money-for consumers, billers and banks. The U.S. Postal Service may not necessarily like the idea of fewer pieces of mail in the system, but the fact remains that not having to mail bills and payments will save people money. And paying bills online will reduce check volumes. Even more important is that EBPP is a definite security play. A body of research has grown around the idea that e-bills are far safer than the paper kind. People are less likely to fall victim to fraudsters who engage in the old "dumpster diving" technique where they rummage through trashcans for discarded bills. This method has long been and continues to be one of the chief contributing factors to identity theft, even in our electronified world. As for the initiative by Sovereign Bank, it will be interesting to see how many of its customers decide to convert to EBPP.