Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Information Deluge

Today I realised why I'm feeling buried by the various companies that supply me with products and services – it's because I am.

Case in point.

Last week I received five letters from my bank. Most of the content was not applicable to me, was of no interest and hid the real information in between all the other paper.

Here's what I got – all on the same day:
  1. Direct marketing material about an insurance product. It came in an envelope on its own with a cover letter, an application form, a deduction authority form, a return envelope, a financial services guide and a 20 page product disclosure statement.

  2. A credit card statement which contained a cover letter, the actual statement, an advertisement for a service that I already have enabled and a flier attempting to entice me to make me a fashion princess – never mind that I'm a bloke, have been all my life – no intention to change either.

  3. An account statement, consisting of several pages of transactions, a warning notice on the second-last page and an advertisement for a good cause that the bank would like me to be interested in.

  4. Another account statement, very brief, single page, but the back has the same advertisement for the same good cause that I am still not interested in.

  5. And finally, an actual letter from my bank advising me that a service I requested has now been activated – never mind that the lead time is two months, but that's not really what this is all about.

So, in among this wad of paper – I've not gone to the trouble of actually counting pages, but there are many – there lurked some actual things that required action. I won't go into detail about what needed doing, suffice to say that some records needed updating.

Now, this is just one service provider, my bank, on one day. It's true that I don't receive that much postal deluge from my bank each day, but the important information was hidden among all the other things I don't care about and seem to have little control over.

Multiply this little experience with the same deluge from my telecommunications provider, my superannuation fund, the taxation department, my frequent flier membership, etc. You get the picture.

I also run a business and get all manner of “information” sent to me from “suppliers” and other sundry sources. It's a veritable forest just arriving at my door.

There's the additional 300 or so emails a day, but strangely enough, I seem to be able to wade through those a whole lot quicker than I can through the marketing muck that arrives in the post.

Enough whining already. What can be done about this feast?

Well, my idea is this. Perhaps my service providers could have a think about what they're sending out and find ways of actually managing the information flow. Huh?

Ok, what if the bank were to take note of how many letters it sent me in any given period, let's say a month. During that month, there are going to be things that have different levels of importance, both to me and my bank. At the level of where the information gets transmitted into the postal system, the bank needs to put in place a means to throttle the information flow.

The result of this is that I can have a better chance to absorb the information sent to me. Think of it as the way that teachers disseminate information, one chunk at a time.

In addition to this management of the actual flood to my door – remembering that my bank is only one of those, there are other things the service provider could do to help me manage the flow.

Why are all my statements not sent in the same envelope?

I have several accounts with the bank. I get an envelope with a statement for each account – even if the accounts are linked. This is ludicrous.

Why are pages and pages wasted with duplicate advertising?

If you give me some information – in the form of advertising on one of my accounts, then it is silly to say the least to print out the same information for each account.

Why is advertising and information on the same statement at all?

I store all my statements, each comes with a helpful “page 1 of x”, and if I were to just throw out the advertising, then the statement would be missing a page and I wouldn't know if it was an actual statement page, or just advertising – so I store this rubbish – for seven years.

Why is a product advisory shipped with all the things I need if I were interested?

I am bombarded with fliers, forms, disclosure statements and other rubbish when that information could be simply referred to in the cover letter and provided on-line with no need to cut down trees to send it to me and for me to throw it in the bin, mostly sight unseen.

True to form I contacted my bank and attempted to impart my insight – with mixed success. The initial response was “I'll remove you from the direct marketing list” – while kind, it wasn't really what I was hoping to achieve. I then was told that the bank understood what I meant and that they would use the feedback to improve their services. In the mean-time I was directed to their web-site to do my research there. Ah well.

Perhaps other service providers will take this on-board and perhaps the world might see flying pigs one day too.