Friday, August 25, 2006

We've Simplified Your Statement

128 We’ve Simplified Your Statement

These are words to strike fear into your heart. Like “easy to assemble” or “cashier in training.”

Periodically, you get changes in the look of bills from the phone company, cable or satellite company, gas company, electric company, fuel oil dealer and your credit cards.

They don’t make anything easier. They just make things more confusing.

Here’s a tip to the Visa/Mastercard/Discover/Macy’s/Cablevision/Con Ed/ExxonMobil/Verizon conspiracy: We need one change and one change and one change ONLY in the bills. Put the account number in the same place – any place will do. Just make all of your bills show the number in the same spot as all the others.

That way you don’t have to hunt for the number when you’re ready to write it on your check or money order. Each bank, each utility, each department store, each gasoline maker, each phone company puts the account number somewhere else. You never know where to look. You have to hunt. And ignoring the suggestion to put the number on your check is an invitation to chaos.

If you want to make life easy for us, make the account number BIG. Sixteen digits are hard to see and copy accurately. (15 for American Express. 14 for Allegheny Power, a mere nine for Verizon Wireless, offset by 16 for Verizon Not Wireless.)

Digression: why do they call the bills “statements.” A statement goes something like this: “The President is a moron,” or “I love you,” or “the holdupman was wearing dark glasses and a hood. He came in around 11 PM, pulled a gun and demanded the contents of the register.”

Something that says how much you owe is a bill. The billers don’t like to call it a bill because that sounds grasping or gauche. But that’s what it is.

Now, back to the main event. “Simplifying” a “statement” is nothing more than moving data around the page. If you have a bunch of phone bills and need to compare two or more of them, it’s easier if all the information’s in the same place on each. Simplifying in the current context makes things harder, not easier. So they’re not really simplifying the bills, they’re compli-fying them.

Is there some idiot at Verizon who really thinks they’ve made the bill simpler? Or is this just another dilution of the English language? If you are a Verizon wireless customer, you may have noticed that they have “simplified” your “statement” by removing the monthly lists of called and received numbers. Granted these bills WERE complicated and bulky – and probably cost quite some bucks to mail each month. But the information could be both interesting and useful. Now, they give you summaries. Brilliant! Perhaps Simply Brilliant!

So simplifying has come to mean new ways of having you play hide and seek with your own account number, boosted the sales of jeweler’s loupes and magnifying glasses (does CitiBank own an optical company?) taken away useful information and made everything else harder.


I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2006 WJR

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