Remember all that talk about living in a time when paper no longer mattered? In our on-demand digital world, a majority of us are growing more comfortable at managing and receiving our personal data online. Not to mention that the omnipresent Cloud is making it easier than ever before to locate all of your data in one secure, encrypted, and centralized depot.
The new problem arises, however, with all of the merchants you do business with and having to keep track of all of your electronic bills and transactions via the merchant’s website. For example, I bank with Wells Fargo. Each time I want to have a look at one of my statements, I need to log in to Wells, click on the statements & documents link in order to find the statement I’m looking for. It’s not complicated but I also have to do the same thing for my Amazon account, Costco account, PayPal, etc…Get the picture? Now what if a product came along that allowed me to review all of my statements online from each single vendor I do business with and all from one location?
Presto, FilesThis, a San Francisco-based company founded on the simple premise that you should be able to manage all of your important bills, files, and statements via the Cloud and avoid the hassle of having to log in to each and every vendor’s website that you do business with. FileThis developed its own proprietary “Fetch” technology, which enables it to transfer any bills or statements direct from your vendor right to you.
I signed up for a free trial. In this case, I connected to my Wells Fargo, Amazon, Anthem Blue Cross, and PayPal accounts. In a matter of minutes, my financial and household statements were being downloaded to my Dropbox account and soon enough, I was able to review all of these documents, each of which were dated and categorized via PDF. FileThis currently lists 369 vendors and according to marketing director, Martin Stein, in a month’s time that should reach 400. If you don’t see a vendor you do business with then you need to send a request to the FileThis team. Martin says nationwide vendors get approved quickly, typically no more than 2 days. Companies get prioritized based on the number of requests and the size and reach of the company.
FileThis enables you to make up to 30 connections with different businesses. With the free account, you get up to 6 connections. FileThis automatically runs once a week, downloading any new bills and/or statements provided by your vendor.
Enabling consumers to regain control of all of their big data has never been easy. A number of companies have already simplified bill paying by allowing users to download statements from banks, utilities, insurance companies, credit cards, and merchants into one encrypted vault. These companies, like Manilla, make money when they convert clients from paper billing to electronic. In contrast, FileThis works on a freemium model.
When you first create your FileThis account, the application asks you which existing cloud service you wish to use to receive your bills and statements. You can use FileThis as your default cloud storage (you get 500 MB with the free account) or use the cloud vendor of your choice, such as Dropbox, Evernote, or Google. If you go premium, FileThis will charge you $2 a month, getting you additional storage, and all the way up to $5 a month, getting you 10 GB of total storage and 30 connections.
You can also download FileThis’s mobile app, scan any receipt, bill, statement, and have it sent it right to your account.
I recently got the opportunity to speak with South African native and founder of FileThis, Brian Berson. A graduate of the Walter Haas School of Business, and creator of DiamondSoft, a font management software company (eventually bought by Celartem, a technology firm) Brian is no stranger to the programming world. Brian was able to share with me just what a breakthrough FileThis is in terms of enabling consumers to finally declutter their homes of excessive paperwork.
Technorati: Where did you get the original idea for FileThis?
Brian Berson: My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s. When my family came to her aid, we didn’t realize just how many filing cabinets of documents and bills we had to pore over in order to make sure she was properly taken care of. The frustration in reviewing all of these documents with a woman who could no longer recognize any of it proved to be quite frustrating. It planted the seed in my mind. Why couldn’t all of this paperwork be digitized and searchable?
Technorati: The idea of going paperless has been bandied about for a long time. Faith in technology suggested just such a reality one day. But while many vendors have gone paperless, they seem to fail in their efforts at persuading a larger group of consumers to still do so. Why do you think that is?
Brian Berson: Most enterprises have been going paperless since the 90s. Most enterprises do try and convince their customers to go paperless. But the adoption rate has been poor, below 20%. The biggest reason why consumers struggle to go paperless is the fear of no longer receiving any information via snail mail and at the end of the month you might receive 20 different emails requiring you to visit 20 different sites in order to access your docs. It’s just too much for a consumer to handle. On top of the slew of emails is the necessity of creating folders and subfolders to help you organize all of the digital documentation.
What has caused confusion for the consumer into going paperless I think has to do with the process. Take for example, the digital photography industry and the confusion that existed for a time when consumers were busy figuring out how and where to store their digital photos once they abandoned traditional film. It’s how companies like Flickr came about. Right now, there’s still confusion in the paper marketplace, but we believe the time has finally arrived where consumers can make the transition from paper to digital and not find themselves overwhelmed in the process.
Technorati: If you were going to push consumers into going paperless, you needed to provide an incentive. How did that come about?
Brian Berson: We knew that if we were to prod consumers into going paperless it would necessitate creating the right technology to do it for them. We took a long, hard look at Mint and the beauty in which they automated the process. We ultimately did steal a page from the Mint playbook, meaning we had to get access to your documents. This brought about the creation of our “Fetch” technology and we knew then it would be a revelation not just to consumers but to large enterprises that were trying to get their customers to go paperless. Not only has the feedback been tremendous from our customers but the fact that we also gave them the option of using FileThis as their preferred Cloud server was also a win.
Brian Berson: There are documents that are not ready to go digital just yet. These might include a living will, or certain mortgage – related real estate documents. Certainly we haven’t seen the end of magazines, books, and newspapers. But FileThis seeks to help consumers take the extra step in removing much of the paper clutter associated with various bills that no longer need to be filed in paper form.
Think of FileThis as partly a digital mailbox, partly a digital filing cabinet, and partly a digital assistant. We automate the whole process for you; we organize your files; we put the dates on your files; we use auto-tagging to help catalog your documents. We’re organizing all of your household documentation into digital manila folders. That is our concept.
Technorati: If this is a potential boon to household consumers, what other types of businesses are reaching out to you?
Brian Berson: We’ve been getting approached by a great deal of wealth fund managers and accountants, people who manage the financial portfolios of their clients. Valeo Financial Advisors took an immediate liking to us. Our fetching technology is proprietary. There are no APIs or standards that these financial institutions can use to actually fetch statements. This makes us unique in the marketplace.
Technorati: Since you came out of beta back in March, your user base has steadily climbed into the tens of thousands. What are your near and long term goals?
Brian Berson: To begin, we’re a consumer business, first and foremost. In my household, we’ve gone paperless with every financial-related account. We currently have nearly 7,000 documents in our own FileThis account. We want to be the Flickr of the consumer document management space. We want household consumers to grow comfortable doing away with the paper clutter in their lives and learn to use FileThis to quickly and easily find and access their documents digitally when they need to.
Second, we’ll be releasing a FileThis Pro-services plan starting in September in conjunction with our key partners in the accounting profession. We’ll also continue to explore realty, mortgage, and wealth management opportunities knowing that these types of services are very popular to those in this space.
We’ve also inked a deal with Pitney Bowes (in partnership with Broadridge Financial Solutions) to use our fetch technology as a means of content delivery for their Inlet platform. We’re building revenue sharing models around these types of relationships.
Technorati: What are you most proud of to date since the launch of FileThis?
Brian Davis: When I first started talking about this idea, everyone thought it was brilliant but said it was too big for an unknown startup. People were telling me a Google, or Dropbox, or Amazon could only realize it. When you look at it, going paperless using our proprietary fetch technology is a big idea.
People have been talking about going paperless for decades now. We get emails from our users every day telling us how our product has changed their lives. How it has helped make things so much easier. That is what I’m proud of. My biggest joy is not raising money or signing deals. It’s creating a solution to a significant problem in people’s lives.