Anything Canada Post can do, the Internet can do better.
So don’t think you’ll be much inconvenienced by the post office’s decision to curtail home delivery in urban areas over the next five years. In fact, you’ll be better off conducting your financial business electronically, and you may even save a little money. Paper bills, account statements and benefit cheques? They’re like payphones and TVs with rabbit-ear antennas.
A lot of the letters we get these days are bills that can be delivered electronically instead of on paper. Many utilities now let you sign up on their websites for bill delivery by e-mail. Canada Post has for years offered a service called epost (epost.ca), which can direct bills and statements from about 100 utilities, stores, banks and municipalities into your online banking account. Among them are Canadian Tire, Rogers, Telus, Hudson’s Bay, several banks and the cities of Toronto, Ottawa, Waterloo, Winnipeg and Vancouver.
With epost, you log into your online bank account, click on an epost link and then pay your bills right then, or on a future date that suits you. You can set up e-mails to alert you to new bills, so there are no worries that you’ll forget to pay the heating bill in January.
I’ve used epost for years and find it to be very convenient, especially if I want to delve into the archives to find out how much I was paying for a particular utility one or two years ago. The big drawback of epost is that the list of associated billers is fairly limited and hasn’t been growing much.
Another free option for online billing is Hubdoc.com, which is designed to be a home base for the monthly bills and financial statements you receive. Warning: You add an account to Hubdoc by supplying the password and login for your online account with a utility or bank. Hubdoc counters concerns about security by saying it uses the same level of encryption as the banks, and that it accesses your account in a “read-only” mode that prevents any changes from being made.
I set up a Hubdoc account on Wednesday and loaded in my Enbridge account, which I currently access online. Hubdoc retrieved bills going back to April and allowed me to view them in a format that looks the same as paper bills. Hubdoc sends e-mails to tell you when a bill or statement has arrived, and to remind you when it’s due.
Hubdoc works ideally with bills and statements you already get online, although they can walk you through a conversion from paper billing. “People love it once they get on and add a few things,” Jamie Shulman, co-CEO of Hubdoc. “The biggest challenge we face is the friction of changing behaviour.”
Utility companies and banks are keen to get away from paper billing because of the cost. In fact, some have been trying to herd customers into online billing by charging a small fee of $2 per paper statement mailed to a client. The federal government announced in October that it would ban this practice, but for now the easiest way to avoid it is to switch to online statements.
With investment account statements, there’s definitely something to be said for viewing them laid out in front of you on paper. But consider the conveniences of going online. You’ll be notified via your online account when the statement is ready and you can then read it at your convenience. Prefer a paper copy? Then print your statement.
In addition to sparing trees, online statement delivery is also very space-efficient. Your statements are in most cases archived for seven years, which is long enough to produce at least several three-ring binders’ worth of paper statements.
Seniors will be most inconvenienced by the move away from home delivery to community mailboxes. They face the greatest mobility challenges, and most often receive income in the form of pension and government benefit cheques. Direct deposit of these cheques into a chequing account is already popular because it’s safe, convenient and reliable. Arranging direct deposit is easy – you just need to supply the government or provider of your pension the numbers that run along the bottom of one of your cheques.
Canada Post’s decision to convert the one-third of the population now receiving home delivery to the community mailboxes now used in suburbs and rural areas highlights just how replaceable mail is. In addition to your financial business, you can send greeting cards and invitations for events like weddings online, and you can subscribe to magazines via tablet.
You may find that when Canada Post tells you where your community mailbox is that you don’t actually need it. Tell them it might make a nice birdhouse.