"Last year our members saved about 60 tons of paper using electronic statements. That's the equivalent of two average-sized gray whales," said Teresa Halleck, president/CEO of The Golden 1 Credit Union in Sacramento.
E-statements also saved the $7.6 billion credit union more than $1 million in paper and postage last year, and The Golden 1 continues to market the service to the 680,000 or so members who have not yet enrolled.
E-statements are just one of the tools in the credit union's growing bag of green solutions. Others include bill pay, check imaging, online banking and anything else that keeps members from having to use gas and time to go into a branch, Halleck said. And there's also the credit union's new energy-efficient headquarters.
E-statements, however, are perhaps the epitome of going green.
"One of the best things about e-statements is that it's so quantifiable," Halleck said. "It's also secure and a tremendous way to help the environment and preserve natural resources, which is a big selling point, too, here in California where a lot of people really care about the environment."
So do credit unions and members across the country, and like The Golden 1, they also care about the bottom line, according to a major provider of e-statements in credit union land.
Ron Daly of DigitalMailer said his company has delivered more than 16 million e-statements since it started off with its first client, his former employer Northwest Federal Credit Union in Virginia, about 10 years ago.
He estimates that the nation's credit unions with more than $50 million in assets have a total of about 12.5 million e-statement users who each generate 50 cents to 75 cents per month in savings. That added up to $75 million a year in industry savings, "and that's a very conservative estimate," he said.
Daly's own business has grown, too. He said DigitalMailer now serves 182 credit unions and operates from its original office as well as locations in Charlotte, N.C., and Dallas, Texas.
"I came back from vacation last week and there were six new contracts on my desk," he said. "With the way the economy is and postage rates and gas and paper, everybody's doing it."
In fact, he said, with an estimated 90% of credit unions over $50 million now offering e-statements, his company's focus has shifted from signing newcomers to chasing the customers of competitors and expanding its other services.
DigitalMailer is now also moving into expanding its daily notices, alerts, disaster-communications systems, surveys, secure Web forms, e-marketing campaigns and online board elections, Daily said. "These are all 'green' solutions and they also make good business sense."
That's also Halleck's philosophy at The Golden 1, which uses CheckFree/Corillian online banking and e-statement services. "We've always strived to be early adopters on products and services that we believe will work in our market, but we try to be on the leading edge, not the bleeding edge," she said. "So we try to find things that we really think fit what our consumers, our membership wants."
"For instance, when everybody wanted to vault into aggregation, we looked at it, but we decided it didn't fit into our membership's comfort level, so we stayed off that train. But e-statements and electronic communications and online services ... well, we're very much fans of that," Halleck said. "It flavors everything we do."
So will green solutions result in paper statements going away for good?
"I don't see the paper being turned off completely but it might be only for those who pay for it," said Daly at DigitalMailer, noting that some brokerage houses already charge for mailed paper statements.
"Remember, Reg E said you have to give the consumer a choice, but it doesn't have to be a free choice," Daly said. He said he wouldn't be surprised if credit unions began charging for paper but waiving that fee based on relationships such as holding certificates of deposit.
"We're starting to see the first signs of movement toward that already, and as postage increases, I think you'll see more and more of it," he said.
As for The Golden 1, Halleck said, "Well, we're in our 76th year and I don't see being completely paperless in our foreseeable future. But 76 years from now, I'm sure it'll be true."