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Cashless society inflates bank statements

The traditional paper statement is growing ever longer, complain banks, because they now have to log millions of extra payments from customers tapping their contactless cards.

The rapid growth of contactless “tap and pay” and online card transactions means greater volumes of low-value purchases are being recorded line-by-line on bank statements.

The average HSBC statement has grown from 2.55 pages to 2.64 pages in the past two years, prompting the bank to introduce double-sided bank statements in October, cutting the number of pages printed by almost 24m a year.

Lloyds Banking Group has also shifted to double-sided statements and changed their layout to fit more transactions per page.

2.64

Average length of an HSBC statement, up from 2.55 two years ago

The elongated statements require more paper to produce them, plus one bank admitted that postal charges rose once statements went beyond a certain weight.

Nationwide said: “Statement size has increased over the last few years as customers record more individual transactions using their cards” such as “buying music or extra lives for their favourite iPhone game”.

The building society added that it was “always looking for ways of improving our statementing (style, structure, etc) to maximise the information in a way that reduces the need of sending out pages and pages of additional statements”.

The UK’s main high street lenders are responding to the rapid growth of the cashless society not only by changing the way they print monthly statements but also by pushing more customers to “go paperless” to cut costs.

Customers make contactless or mobile payments many times a day where they may have previously paid in cash, such as to travel on the London Underground, hail Uber rides, buy drinks in a pub, purchase music online or order goods on mobile devices.

In October there were 1.27bn payment card transactions in the UK, a 10 per cent increase year-on-year, while online transactions rose 16 per cent to 160m, according to the UK Cards Association. Contactless card usage has risen even faster, more than doubling by number and trebling by value over the past year.

Santander UK said contactless payments “do increase the number of transactions shown on statements, which impacts statement length and the overall cost of providing paper statements”.

Royal Bank of Scotland said it regularly prompted customers to switch to online statements, or to opt for quarterly ones if they needed printed documents. Barclays, like most banks, is offering free printouts of statements from the past few years for customers who “go paperless”.

Most banks said a growing majority of customers were choosing to receive their statements digitally. But a recent poll by Keep Me Posted, the lobby group for people’s right to receive paper statements, found that almost a third still only get their bank statements by post. The poll found that many people value the regular prompt that paper statements provide to check their account for fraud or overspending.

Some people may want printed statements because of an outdated fear that official bodies, such as the taxman, require original records going back years. But an HMRC spokesperson said: “If you receive bank statements by email or PDF, it is acceptable to keep them in electronic form.”

Consumer rights groups worry about people who rely on paper statements being marginalised, such as those without internet access. “There are circumstances like applying for a mortgage where you will have to get statements printed out in an official way,” said James Daley, founder of consumer site Fairer Finance.

“Older generations are used to doing everything on paper,” he said. “It’s not right for banks to exclude customers who only work on paper by forcing them to move online or by charging for paper statements. Banks need to be patient . . . they forget they have a social role.”

Via FT