The financial printing industry has collectively realized not a moment too soon that its business model going forward is not sustainable.
The way companies in this lucrative market niche do business is changing. Leaders in the business finally understand that future growth will be driven by advancing technology and automation.
This is a seemingly sudden development to an industry that to this point has been slow to change, adapt or alter anything in the way they do business.
I will attempt to explain this further by benefit of some personal insight.
After pulling 15 years as a pre-press technician/typesetter/desktop publishing commercial printing professional, I had an opportunity to crack the financial printing world as a document processor/typesetter.
Seeing how RR Donnelley, acknowledged as one of the leading, if not among the biggest three at the time commercial printers, was the employer courting my services for their financial business unit, I was naturally pretty eager to create a good first impression. I felt in my heart of hearts this would be a chance to work with the latest equipment and technology—state of the art!
I had enjoyed working for several commercial printers, newspapers and print shops before this time, but the prospect of being employed by (some estimations) the world’s biggest overall printer encompassing both commercial and financial segments, was an opportunity I didn’t want to let slide through my hands.
I had several rounds of interviews, computer operator tests (typing and general word processing skills in MS Word and WordPerfect (is it even still around?) and was finally made an offer and accepted.
First day on the job my jaw dropped.
My big-time new employer was using an antiquated, code-based typesetting system for producing their work.
Previously building grocery ads on Macs with full WYSIWYG at the ad agency I worked at just prior to accepting Donnelley’s offer, I was, shall we understatedly say, disappointed, that I would need to learn another code-based system (Compugraphic being the first). I didn’t pause with shock and dismay too long, however; I quickly set upon my way learning the system inside and out as quickly as I could—my survival there depended on my doing so.
Would I have accepted their offer if I had seen what hardware and software I’d be using?
Maybe, maybe not. I DID think back early on there, though, that it was a pretty slick withholding of information their interviewers perpetrated—not even letting me (or other candidates) see what systems we’d be working on, until you actually accepted the employment offer and were on the job.
Thus began my education into the mysterious world of financial printing.
A lot of the commercial side folks have heard of it, but haven’t really ever gotten their heads around it in the slightest to garner understanding of what it’s all about.
After working in financial printing for 15 years now, some days I still don’t get it. I usually say I’m in government work and it’s confidential: if I tell you, I have to kill you (joking of course, but still need to say I’m kidding for you weird interpreters out there).
But things are changing, none too soon and for the better of the leading service providers: Donnelley, Merrill Corporation and the collaborative-based client software upstart WebFilings.
Financial printers in a nutshell help get companies public and keep them there by performing compliance document filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Until XBRL reporting (investor tool) was required, the printing side of Financial Printing produced great margins for the industry. With the advent of XBRL reporting by publicly-owned companies, the printing side of the business greatly diminished; everything is done online and via the web. Companies often post their filings with their press releases on their own web pages and their filings can also be found on sec.gov.
The “Inhouse” was the business model from which the build out of financial printing satellite offices was born. Inhouses are unique to financial printing. I should say “were” unique, that is, because up until the past few years, clients would come to financial printer facilities and work on their documents; now, not so much.
With the advent of the cloud and globalization, clients no longer are coming to these facilities in the numbers they once did, to say it kindly. Clients can work on their documents from anywhere—their homes, offices, what have you. It’s a mobile world we live in and financial printers are finally getting it.
WebFilings, out of Ames, IA, although Donnelley and Merrill would not admit this, has contributed to the demise of the lucrative financial printing phenomenon known as the Inhouse. WebFilings’ software allows clients to work on their own documents and file them with the SEC. For clients who choose this solution, there is no need to walk into a Donnelley or Merrill office and work their documents traditionally.
The traditional way was the way of the Inhouse. The Inhouse model featured facilities with banks of conference rooms that clients would populate–turning pages of their documents to smartly business-attired customer service representatives, who would deliver these pages with edits to be performed to on-site compositors and proofreaders or off-site staff, via electronic network delivery means.
Donnelley and Merrill have updated their typesetting systems over the years and maintain domestic and international presences of composition resources.
They still offer basically two types of composition service for their clients, too: fast (known by various names as ASAP (as soon as possible) and QTA (quick turn around) and not so fast, or “Overnight” levels of service.
I would suggest these two types of service offerings become just one. All work needs to be performed and completed as soon as possible for companies to remain competitive. This will take managers with the ability to accurately estimate delivery times and sales people who can offer pricing that suits this “as soon as we can” approach.
In order to accomplish this, customer service functions should be performed in call centers. Customer service presence on site is no longer necessary as it was during the height of the Inhouse business model days.
As Donnelley and Merrill compete into the future with WebFilings in terms of offering an entirely client-based service solution, the need for traditional financial printing customer service withers that much further.
I envision a financial printing world where Customer Service and Composition personnel morph into a hybrid of sorts—that is, people who can do both job functions: field customer calls from anywhere in the world, put work into a network of composition resources and perhaps even effect actual quick edits to pages leading up to daily SEC filing deadlines, as the wave of the future.
Change is constant. Commercial printing pre-press technicians have long worked with clients over the phone and in person, offering the best of both worlds—great customer service and quality typesetting/desktop publishing products.
The financial printing niche would be wise to revisit how the commercial printing world conducts its business in this respect (continue offering the outdated, outmoded, unnecessary customer service functions of the twentieth century at your own peril, financial printers).
But wait, I just heard there’s an Inhouse on the way…NOT!!!
Happy Birthday, Rhonda Jean! 🙂