Communications are changing in the world of finance and investment as companies seek out sustainable, traceable and secure digital communication methods that are just as effective as print – and with a lower carbon footprint.
Dave Reynolds remembers printing the first personalised booklet for a holiday business, printed on one of the first Xerox iGens in the UK. It was a chequebook format product containing flight tickets, baggage tags, relevant information about the booking, how to get the destination hotel, offers on car parking, car hire at the resort and perhaps tokens for discounted meals, drinks or visitor attractions.
It was entirely personalised to the family making the holiday booking and saved the holiday company a small fortune at check-in, in retrieving lost tickets, answering daft questions about accommodation and so on. But it is no more. Technological progress means that the mobile phone is a better place to store and hold this sort of information.
Several corporate changes later, Reynolds is now COO, transactional & service divisions at Paragon Customer Communications. He is still in Dagenham and still solving the problems that companies have in providing information securely to their end customers. When the personalised holiday booklet was launched, the smartphone was a gleam in the eye. The purchaser of the holiday had to visit the travel agent to collect their tickets to ensure they arrived in the right hands. Today communication needs to be digital if possible and just as secure.
“We are a long way down the road now and we are not doing that anymore,” Reynolds says about the holiday booklet.
“Today it’s about innovation and delivery via other channels. In terms of print, we are the first to recognise that we are in a declining market from a volume perspective.”
Communication remains essential, only now instead of being solely paper-based there are myriad ways of connecting a provider of services with the end customer. Companies like Paragon CC are no longer the bus conductor on the journey from one point to the next, but the conductor of an orchestra able to call on many instruments to create a rich sound or customer experience. Print is one of those choices, but it is no longer the only or preferred instrument that can be played.
In that orchestra, one of today’s leading soloists is email. It is ubiquitous, loved, hated and despised in equal measure. But in terms of simplicity, intuitiveness and universality it is hard to beat. Most people will have at least one email address and accessible on mobile, or a desktop or tablet and at several points during the day. It is cheap and easy to use.
This also makes it an obvious target for fraudsters, either creating fake emails or intercepting emails and scraping personal details or changing them so that payments, for example, are made to their bank of choice, not the intended recipient.
Many businesses may be willing to accept these risks as the cost of doing digital business. Most major brands are not. This type of email-based fraud is on the increase. According to the Information Commissioner’s Office, it is 62% more likely that a business will send an email containing sensitive data to the wrong recipient than to fall victim to a phishing attempt. People are starting to wise up to phishing and are on the alert, but they can be blasé about outbound email breaches.
For Paragon CC the challenge was to find a means of making those outbound email communications secure without losing the user-friendliness of an email. A password-protected portal which consumers have to visit to access documents is an approach that continues to work well, though mostly in professional environments, legal or accountancy say, so has its place, but is not the whole answer. It is too awkward for everyday use by those without the experience of these professions.
Paragon CC found the next part of the jigsaw came via a familiar source. Andy Young had been COO at the Dagenham site under DST and iOS before Paragon CC came along and had worked with Reynolds for many years. Semi-retired, Young has been helping a former customer get a new venture off the ground. This has become Beyond Encryption and it seems an ideal fit for Paragon CC.
It had been set up by Paul Holland, a software entrepreneur in the financial services space, with a number of successful start ups behind him. He had, also through a previous company, been a client of the printing business. Holland had realised the importance that secure email would have, leading to the creation of Mailock as a first product, and then founded Beyond Encryption to bring the innovation to market.Users include insurance and mortgage companies, Paragon CC is the first printer to sign up. The application has been integrated into Paragon CC’s OnePlatform Customer Communications Management solution.
Beyond Encryption’s Mailock software is the way to deliver email securely. Only the authorised recipient, verified by a two-factor identification system by Beyond Encryption, is able to open the email and download the documentation. This is otherwise protected by AES-256 encryption – effectively unbreakable. What is sent can be a contract, a personal report about investments, application forms and sales documentation. In many instances the email will contain bank details or requests for bank details. It is in effect a digital recorded delivery system with every element held securely and with every element trackable.
For Holland what the company is doing now is nothing new. “Encryption has been used for thousands of years,” he says. The Egyptians, Greeks and Phoenicians all used encryption. Protecting accounts with an easily guessed password is not encryption. Timing is everything. “Because we are late into this we can see the problems that have been caused. We needed to make what we do simple enough for my 85-year-old mum to be able to use. Other systems are often highly complex.
“Beyond Encryption was set up to help financial companies to deal with both evolution of technology and to push the market along to achieve better outcomes.”
The figures suggest that Beyond Encryption has been successful. Two-thirds of emails are opened in 24 hours, 75% eventually opened, something that Holland attributes to the ease with which the technology can be used. Where the digital approach fails, a print alternative is delivered. However, the tide is moving against print for this type of communication. “With Covid more and more people are wanting to communicate digitally, and that goes beyond email. We want to be on our phones,” he explains.
The company’s technology is suited to integration between digital and print because it tracks when an email has been opened and the attachments downloaded and viewed. It also enables an email that has been sent in error or with an error, to be revoked, even if it has been opened already. It simply disappears and a replacement issued.
The swing to digital communications is driven also by ESG considerations – email has less of a carbon footprint than print. A specialist business has calculated the saving and can apply a carbon figure to mailings. An email is reckoned to have a carbon impact of 50g.
The best calculation for the print equivalent is 100g/CO2e. And as Beyond Encryption is hosted in the cloud with Microsoft’s Azur environment, which is well on the road to carbon-neutral status, Beyond Encryption can set its sights on becoming carbon negative as a business.
When a customer needs to send bulk digital mailings, Beyond Encryption can calculate a carbon figure which can then be offset. The appeal to companies in the financial services sector is huge. Regulation is tight and the need to deliver secure communications to the right person is critical. Furthermore for these businesses, the digital shift appears good for the ESG policies. They look good by cutting carbon emissions from their communications, save money and come up with a trackable and secure communications package.
One investment business ran a model to calculate what the carbon saving could be when communicating with their customers. The figure came in at 43 tonnes of CO2e. Young says every Domino pizza leaflet campaign produces 3-4 tonnes of carbon so the finding could be significant.
He adds: “The customers that Paragon has no longer want to do things the old way – they want a cheaper and more eco friendly way of communicating.” That is digital first.
Holland adds: “It’s not about replacing print, print can become more integrated with digital. It’s about helping financial services businesses deal with the evolution of technology and to create the services that will push the market along with better outcomes for their clients.”
This can include communications to Independent Financial Advisers and mortgage brokers as well as to end consumers.
“Our focus is on financial services because that is a business that we know, though we have grown the footprint into accountancy and legal services.”
Beyond Encryption has also moved beyond the email, creating a smarter smart wallet or “digital concierge” for money and documents so that a consumer can hold everything securely on a phone and it becomes easy to access and deal with, just like the TUI holiday booklets. This technology is presented as an app with the name Nigel. “We chose the name because it suggests someone doing something pretty boring,” says Holland. “It is the name most identified with being an accountant, though we have also made it into an acronym for Now I’ve Got Everything Labelled.”
It can be an app for consumers to download or be offered as an extension of a brand’s services to its customers, skinned with the brand’s identity and providing information about consumer habits and choices into the bargain.
Holland likens it to Siri or Alexa adding that like Alexa Skills, Nigel can make suggestions about other services offered by the brand that the target client might be interested in, different insurance products for example, or related purchases.
On one level it is a destination box for receipts and filing of communications, on the other in the hands of a savvy consumer, Nigel becomes a secure, and discreet, digital organiser.
It will be something that a consumer will be able to download and run on their phone like any standard app. It can also be skinned by a brand and offered as an app to their customers as way of keeping secure tabs on all the communication sent to that customer. Printed documents can be scanned by phone into digital versions for archival purposes.
“If it is a branded product then those brands will learn more about their customers and how they interact with the service provider,” says Holland.
Young adds: “It make the postal and email messaging more interactive. It’s one of the things that we offer over and above postal solutions. Nigel acts like a digital PO Box for the receipt of mail and in turn Mailock is like a digital recorded delivery, because not only can the brand see when someone clicks on the email, we know when each attachment has been opened.”
The combination of email and print is already a major requirement for both outbound marketing and for transactional content. Two Sides has long railed against lazy comments from financial services providers in particular that email will save trees. It doesn’t but it does save the bank, insurance company, investment provider a stack of money. It is not only Paragon CC that has noticed this. It lay behind the acquisition of customer communications specialist DocCentrics in August 2020. “Integrating DocCentric’s platform into our own omnichannel solution is a further commitment to a digital strategy, which complements our print and post heritage, as we become the customer experience partner of choice for an increasing number of clients,” CEO Tony Strong declared at the time.
It followed on a decision to link with Quadient to offer further complex and integrated digital customer communications alongside print. OTC believes its future lies in the digital communications side with print and mail playing the supporting rather than the primary role in this regard.
Quadient was previously Neopost, changing its name as it became clearer that the future was less in the supply of franking machines than in digital experience management and digital delivery of customer communications.
Quadient is quickly becoming a first port of call for this type of service for traditional transactional printers. For the less specialist or the smaller print and mailing houses, Quadient is working with Ricoh as part of its Process Director workflow management tool.
Quadient Inspire will be a tight integration with Process Directorate manage communications over paper, HTML5 for web, email, SMS and WhatsApp. Reports are generated on the fly with actions, say sending mailed catalogues on request, handled automatically. Ricoh sees this as filling a need for printers diversifying or evolving their business into marketing services or communications specialists.
Meanwhile Ricoh has extended a partnership with Communisis that dates back 12 years to implement Process Director to provide a process management platform and workflow handling both print and digital communications. This adds an increased level of sophistication and operational convenience to the combined communication service that Communisis has been offering.
It has been using Striata, a South African application, since 2018 to help this digital transformation for customers particularly in banking, financial services and healthcare according to a statement at the time. However, Striata was acquired not long after by US company Doxim, which may have resulted in a change of strategy affecting development of the product and partnership. Whatever the case, Communisis has moved with Process Director to enhance this initial step into secure and interactive digital communications.
Ricoh and Communisis talk about will be elements of AI to harvest data and manage the process so that client communications are triggered at the right time, to the correct recipient and using print or digital channels as appropriate.
This operates in accordance with data security standards like PCI and Cyber Essential Plus. Cara Walker, executive director of digital solutions at Communisis, says "the deal with Ricoh is about taking clients’ omnichannel capabilities to the next level” to enhance brand engagement.
"The pace of our ever evolving digital transformation has helped us enhance the service we provide, not only to our clients but to their customers. This is just one example of the investment Communisis is making in our products and services to ensure we are always improving the customer experience and making lives better,” she adds.
The announcement states: “The new platform enables clients’ ability to rationalise lakes of customer data using automation and AI, ensuring that client communications are always sent on time, to the correct individual and through the most appropriate communication channel. It adds flexibility to processes, increasing efficiencies and reducing lead in times significantly.”
This transition is happening across the sector. Print is simply no longer enough. The challenge is about keeping print in the mix. There will also be an element of the audience that does not use digital channels, either because they do not want to or because they lack the means to do so. Print will remain vital for these people.
Others will have a choice and print needs to remain at the forefront, not just for consumers, but also for brands that need to recognise the limitations of digital channels. One of those is the security aspect.
Consumers are increasingly aware of the dangers of sending information containing personal information via SMS or emails that are on the open net. Encryption is key to delivering this, though it has to be seamless to the end user to retain the support of users.
The support of brands is key too. Holland says that open rates will be a deciding factor.
“What we are doing with Beyond Encryption delivers open rates that are so high because it’s easy to use and is secure.”
There are varied flavours to the technology according to the volumes handled from enterprise versions to desktop for the smaller users, perhaps for the independent financial services adviser.
And there are applications for secure email that go beyond the financial services sector. Beyond Encryption has focused here because it’s a market that it understands.
There are needs in legal and accountancy where professionals want the ease and speed of digital transfer of documents to healthcare services where personal information is sent and there is a requirement to know that a letter has been received, opened and acted upon.
Over time consumers are likely to expect the same level of security from smaller businesses and from companies outside the most highly regulated sectors. As a result, some print will disappear, but at the same time the print that these customers produce will be opened, be read and be acted upon rather more than another letter in a brown or plain envelope that is chucked on the pile of unopened missives. Nobody wants that.
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