Online statements and tax forms


If you have any type of stocks, mutual funds, or money market accounts, you probably receive a few tax forms each year. Not too long ago, these forms were always sent by US mail. But with the advent of online statements and other “paperless” technologies, even tax documents are now being delivered online. In most cases, the company tells you when the tax forms are ready, and you can download the forms at your convenience.

Well, that’s what usually happens. I had an experience with a money market account that proved otherwise. I knew I needed a copy of the tax form, but I never received any instructions about where to get it. I signed in to the online banking site, and looked all over for it. No mention of tax forms. So I looked in the list of statements — still nothing. Finally, I did a web search and found someone else with the same problem. It turns out they include the form with your January statement, without telling you about it.

The bank could fix this situation quite easily. First, send customers an email when the regular statement contains special enclosures like tax forms. Second, provide a prominent message within the online banking site that tells people where to find the tax forms. And finally, change the description of those special statements so people can pick up the scent. For example, instead of saying “January 2009” in the drop-down menu, change it to something like “January 2009 (includes 2008 tax forms — download the PDF to view them)”.

Sure, customers might eventually figure this stuff out on their own. But when you take the lazy approach and leave them to fend for themselves, you pay for that laziness many times over in customer service calls. And in the long run, these seemingly small annoyances will lead to higher customer attrition as well.