The PDF Problem: Getting the Most Out of Digital Documents

By Sally Lopez

Brick-and-mortar closures, aggressive cost-cutting, and the rapid growth of the consumer digital lifestyle are all signs of the times. This has led to a profound effect on banking and finance firms. Suddenly unable to share documents in person, they must now rely on PDFs for transactions.

To better understand the growing importance of PDFs in the banking and finance industry, the BPI Network, in partnership with Foxit, surveyed 150 banking and finance executives in 2020 about the challenges they face in supporting employees who regularly handle critical PDFs. More than 80 percent of banking and finance executives see a definite rise in the use of and reliance on PDFs over the last few months. More than 90 percent say the number of PDF power users has grown in the last 12 months, with 20 percent saying it has more than doubled.

Why the drive to digital? People are making fewer visits to bank branches during the pandemic. Branch traffic fell more than 30 percent in April and the first three weeks of May compared with the same period in 2019, according to Novantas, a financial services research firm. Teller transactions dropped 32 percent in March and April compared with the same period last year.

In today’s all-digital world, everyone needs to be a digital content creator. Remote banking and finance employees need to be able to whip up, mark up and share documents as easily and more frequently as handing out paper documents to customers in an office setting. Printed paper has little place anymore.

Yet only a handful of banking and finance employees are PDF power users today.

Costly licenses are a serious problem as banking and finance firms seek to cut costs and go lean during these times of economic constraint and market upheaval. Every company is scrutinizing every solution, every dollar spent. This problem is compounded if banking and finance firms haven’t consolidated PDF solutions; nearly 40 percent have two or more PDF vendors in their environment.

In addition to less expensive software licenses and vendor consolidation, banking and finance firms should look at cost savings in the form of eliminating paper. The average worker isn’t concerned about the cost of paper production, ink, postage, file cabinets, but banking and finance executives should factor in these potential cost savings.

Poor user experience is another major PDF problem. This likely stems from a complex user interface, such as how tools are oriented within the software. When users can’t find a tool needed to complete an urgent task, they’ll naturally call the help desk.

Managing licenses and usage came in as the fifth most cited PDF problem, yet 61 percent of banking and finance executives said they’re tracking and managing PDF costs. This suggests room for improvement. As banking and finance firms increase the number of PDF power users, PDF licensing costs can spiral out of control if poorly tracked and managed. There’s no question banking and finance firms have a long way to go to fully support the growing ranks of PDF power users and digital customers.

Even after years of companies trumpeting digital transformation, the paperless office is still unrealized for most. Banking and finance firms aren’t immune. More than half of banking and finance executives said the march to the paperless office is a slow process, if it’s happening at all.

Banking and finance firms will be more successful if they can identify and ward off PDF problems before they alienate employees and disrupt the digital customer experience. One solution is to support newly trained power PDF employees with advanced features, such as electronic signature, mobile capabilities and document scanning, as well as a user-friendly interface.

On the cost-cutting side, banking and finance firms should take a hard look at software licenses and consolidating vendors while guarding against proprietary lock-in. This will speed progress toward the paperless office and reduce paper-associated costs.

Above all, banking and finance firms need to get serious about their PDF environment. Spurred by the pandemic, the digital lifestyle will continue to shutter more brick-and-mortar branches and make PDFs and electronic signatures the primary vehicle of business transactions.

What we have learned from the survey of banking and finance executives is that there’s room to improve the PDF environment, cut associated costs, and support PDF power users. Several key points quickly emerge as big takeaways from the study:

Identify PDF cost savings. In times of economic prudence, banking and finance firms need to look everywhere to cut costs. The PDF environment is rife with costly software licensing and lack of consolidation. Additional cost savings can be realized with the reduction of paper.

Create a list of must-have features. PDF power users need to do a lot more than viewing and sharing documents. Make sure your PDF solution supports electronic signature, Microsoft Office integration, mobile capabilities, among other advanced features.

Ward off PDF problems. Every banking and finance firm experiences PDF problems. They threaten to alienate employees and ruin the customer experience. Make sure your PDF solution has a friendly user interface that enables users to access the tools they need.

Prepare for growth. Banking and finance firms will continue to rely more heavily on PDFs. The ranks of PDF power users will also continue to increase. It’s time to get ahead of the trend by re-thinking the PDF environment, corralling costs and better supporting users.

Sally Lopez is program director for the BPI Network.