Financial reports are a colossal waste of paper. Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true. I’m sure some people read every last character in those thick stacks of paper sent out by investment agencies at the end of the fiscal year. But most of us just shred them and put them in the recycling (or, unfortunately and probably more commonly, the trash).
What’s in one of those things? Usually it’s just a summary of all transactions conducted by the agency on your behalf since the last report, with a few statistics thrown in for good measure. Yes, it can be useful. No, it does not need to be mailed out to every agency customer, in triplicate (I kid you not; this does happen on occasion).
Before the invention of the Internet, such mailings made sense. There was simply no other good way of getting the documents. It was either paper mail or paper fax. Either way, you used paper.
Now, of course, we have the Internet, and that wonderful thing called email. Adobe made the PDF file format, and we should be using that, too. There’s simply no good reason to use paper for these reports in this day and age.
Considering that each report averages around 20 or 30 pages, and that there will often be multiple reports mailed by multiple agencies, that translates into a lot of paper, especially if the amount is multiplied by the number of customers receiving those documents. As I said, we could definitely email PDFs instead of putting all these reams of paper in the mail. What if, just hypothetically, there was a better way? A better way even than email?
I think there is, and it’s kind of making me eat my own words. What if all the reports were simply generated on-the-fly by a Web-based console? Each customer would get a login (always transmitted over SSL, of course, as with the rest of the site), which would get them into a reporting interface tied to their transactions. Undoubtedly, the transaction data is stored in a database. That would be an efficient way to store such uniform data. The site would simply tie into that database (or a replicated read-only copy, for another layer of
In my mind, I envision the same sort of powerful reporting interface as those used by applications like Google Analytics. Date ranges, comparisons, graphs, charts… All would be quite welcome in a world of financial data. And the best part of such a system would be the near-obsolescence of paper reports. The dynamic charting and date-range selection capabilities of the Web application would surely prove more useful than fixed paper reports.
Of course, there would be Luddites intent upon keeping their paper-based reports. Hence “near-obsolescence” rather than just “obsolescence.” There would have to be an option to receive paper reports, in recognition of the views held by the few people who would want them. But that option should be turned off by default. Anyone who wanted paper mailed to them would simply call the agency and say so. It could even be a question when new customers sign up. But again, the default would be “no.” As far as I can tell, most people don’t use the paper, so why waste it?
It’s probably obvious that this is a half-baked idea. I haven’t got any interface mock-ups, server-side code (say, PHP or Python), SQL, or anything else. All I have is an ideal, that paper-based reports be sent only — and only — to the people who want and use them.