What happens when a consumer agrees to do business with a supplier electronically? The consumer creates an online profile and adds their communications preferences – such as whether they want an email or text notification when their bill is due, whether they want to receive promotional offers, and whether they agree to allow the supplier to suppress paper-based communications.
Many of us are already doing business this way – with our banks and air carriers, for example. And the trend is growing quickly in other industries, both in the business-to-consumer sectors, but also business-to-business. But what about the record retention requirements for these alerts and notifications, on the supplier’s side? What does the supplier have to retain as a business record of these critical communications to consumers?
Well, the retention requirements themselves are similar to the retention requirements regarding paper-based communications. What complicates things is the fact that typically, there is a mix of database transactions and e-communications that must be retained, with linkages between them. For example, a supplier needs to retain a history of a consumer’s preferences profile – say that they elected to be sent a text message when a bill is due – and a copy of the text message itself. Typically, these two pieces of information are retained in two different systems.
Now, along comes a lawsuit alleging the supplier has over-billed its clients. The litigation support team goes to work collecting relevant information to defend itself. The over-billing claim involves the question of late fees being charged to clients. Now the supplier has to prove that proper notification was sent, and data from both the transactional system and the e-communications system need to be reconciled. The process is complex and potentially expensive for the unprepared.
For that reason, retention of electronic alerts and notifications is a growing area of interest for our clients. Best-in-class firms are expanding their recordkeeping practices and processes to address these types of communications. And crucial to their success is the inclusion of experts in the field of structured data retention.
Historically, the records management folks dealt with paper, and now electronic documents, while the database folks dealt with the transactional systems. Today, the requirements are merging, as we see growing adoption of system-generated alerts and notifications. Moving forward, what’s needed is a multi-disciplinary team to address the retention of all the information that constitutes electronic alerts and notifications.
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