Just over 20 years ago I signed up for an internet account. Every month they sent me an invoice in the post. Every month I opened the envelope, checked the invoice was the same amount it always was, then filed it away. I ended up with a lot of invoices.
In 2009 my internet provider wrote me a letter introducing their new Online Invoice Management System. They suggested I might switch over to electronic invoices, but there was no pressure. It all sounded like faff and effort, so I put the letter to one side, then filed it away. They carried on sending me paper invoices.
In 2011 my internet provider wrote me another letter urging me to switch over to e-billing. They were rather more upbeat this time. You'll be able to view itemised bills online instead of getting a paper bill in the post, they said, and it's kinder to the environment. I mulled over their offer for a few seconds and then filed it away. They carried on sending me paper invoices.
In 2012 my internet provider wrote me another letter telling me they were switching everyone over to e-billing. Aha, they said, you'll have Instant Access Anywhere. Woohoo, they said, you can Save Time Online. Wahey, they said, you can Slash The Admin. OK, they added, you can still have paper invoices if you really want, but they'll cost you £1.50 a time. I decided against paying extra, and waited to see what happened. They started emailing me invoices instead. This was fine. The pdfs still looked like the original paper invoices. I always opened them up and looked at them, just in case, and then I filed the email away on my computer.
In 2013 my internet provider suddenly charged me £50 for a free router they'd sent me six months previously. I'd never have noticed if I hadn't opened up my pdf invoice and checked. We engaged in online conversation, and they refunded the error. Nothing out of the ordinary has happened since.
This week my internet provider emailed me with news of their latest billing shake-up. They sound extremely upbeat.
It all sounds remarkably like the letter I received in 2012. It's all Aha, Woohoo and Wahey. I don't need any of these fancy extra facilities, my bill is always the same, and all I want to do is look at it. But the unwritten suggestion is that my monthly pdf invoices will cease, and I'm going to have to log into something to see what's going on.
I don't want a user name that's an unmemorable six digit number. I don't want to have to come up with a complicated password featuring stupid characters. I know I'm going to have to write them both down somewhere to remember them. But most of all, I don't like the fact that checking my monthly invoice is about to become harder, and my internet provider is trying to dress this up as an improvement.
Opening an envelope was easy, but cost my internet provider money. Opening a pdf was easy, but caused my internet provider to have to expend effort to generate an email. Logging into a finance portal and then locating the latest invoice is going to be more hassle for me, but much less hassle for them.
I will not like my new online billing experience. After 20 years I'll be doing all the work, jumping through extra hoops so that my internet provider can jump through fewer. I'll still need to check my invoice every month, in case it's wrong, but the danger is that eventually I won't be bothered, and I'll get caught out.
This is the way of the digital commercial world. They'll save money, I'll waste time. No wonder they're upbeat.