When financial advisors get together, it is not surprising to hear them debate the relative merits of one investment vehicle versus another. Understandably, it is less likely that you'd overhear them debating the relative merits of one file format over another; but file formats do matter. We live in a world where digital documents are rapidly overtaking paper ones as the medium of choice, for both everyday business usage as well as regulatory archiving purposes.

The question facing advisors is whether to store their business records in a PDF file format or in a TIFF format. Since advisors are not technology experts, they often rely on the expertise of others, and unfortunately, this sometimes leads them to accept inaccuracies and falsehoods. And in some cases, they're receiving incorrect or conflicting information about these two file formats.

This article means to set the record straight and help the practitioner make an informed decision about TIFFs and PDFs. First, we'll provide some basic background on both formats. Then we'll address some of the most frequently asked questions about choosing between them.

What Is TIFF?
The Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) specification was originally introduced in 1986 by Aldus Corporation. Microsoft, as well as leading scanner and printer manufacturers, cooperated on a subsequent version of the specification in 1988. The most current specification dates back to 1992, and Aldus Corporation merged with Adobe in 1994.

TIFF is a high-density, high-quality file format for storing images. The format uses compression algorithms to minimize the document storage requirements. TIFF is widely supported by scanning, faxing, optical character recognition and image manipulation programs. Many operating systems, including Microsoft XP and Apple's Mac OS X Leopard have built-in TIFF viewing capabilities, so TIFF files can be viewed in these systems without any additional software.

What Is PDF?
The Portable Document Format standard was originally introduced by Adobe Systems in 1993. PDF lets you capture and view information from almost any application, on any computer system, and share it with virtually anyone, anywhere. PDF files are viewable and printable on all major platforms including Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac, UNIX and most major mobile platforms.

Usually, a free PDF reader like Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader must be installed on a computer to read PDF files. Most personal computers come with Adobe Reader pre-installed, and for those that don't, this is a one-time operation that only takes a minute.

Like TIFF, PDF is capable of capturing very high quality images for publishing applications and other programs. Like TIFF, the PDF standard uses compression to store images in a file. But unlike TIFF, the PDF standard explicitly defines the compression algorithms that may be used.

Frequently Asked Questions
I've heard that TIFFs are preferable to PDFs because a TIFF is an open format and PDF is proprietary. Is this true?
No. Despite persistent rumors that have been uttered at industry trade shows, it is absolutely false! According to Betsy Fanning of the Institute for Information and Image Management (AIIM), the PDF is an open standard. Kevin Day of Trumpet Inc., a provider of document management solutions for financial professionals, is even more emphatic: "I don't understand how this misinformation can continue to be given credence. PDF is accessible as an ISO International Standard-ISO 32000-1. Anyone with a Web browser can run a Google search to confirm this.

"Our applications make heavy use of both TIFF and PDF," he continues, "and I can assure you: There are no licensing fees associated with either format. Period!"