Although people have been predicting the demise of paper documents for years, the truly paperless office continues to elude many financial advisory firms. The allure of the fully digital office is compelling. According to an April 2013 survey conducted by Edelman Berland for Adobe (entitled Paper: An Endangered Species?) a majority of survey respondents said that digital documents saved time, increased efficiency, simplified work and made it easier to file and manage paperwork.

If digital documents are so great, why do we still need scanners? In the typical advisory firm, there are many culprits. In many cases, clients and prospects can’t, or won’t, provide information in digital format. They supply information of “held away” assets such as 401(k) plans and 529 plans in the form of paper statements. They may also supply estate planning documents and health care documents in paper. According to the Adobe study, however, there is one type of document that is responsible for by far the most paper generated by businesses today: contracts.

According to the survey, 98% of respondents noted that they still use paper in their transactions involving contracts. This is somewhat ironic given that 70% agree that contracts are more efficient when digitally signed, and that life would be easier if all contracts exchanged at work were done digitally. Furthermore, 67% of respondents agree that contracts are prone to potential defacing when sent on paper. Of the lawyers surveyed, only 30% believe that a paper contract locked in a file cabinet is secure.

There are a few obvious conclusions that one can draw from the study. One is that all financial advisory firms would benefit greatly from a totally digital environment. Many have taken steps in this direction, but the process is incomplete. Thirty-seven percent of survey respondents said that their office is mostly digital, but only 2% said that they use no paper in any business transaction involving contracts. I suspect that among advisory firms, a smaller percentage of firms would claim to be mostly digital, and of those, only a very small percentage would not be using any paper at all.
A second conclusion is that in order to make significant progress in the move to a more digital and more secure environment, digital signature technology is a must. This technology is starting to be adopted more widely within the industry, but we are still in the very early stages of a shift in the way we process contracts, applications and the like.

A third conclusion is that since the typical financial advisor still must deal with a significant amount of paper, a scanner is necessary to convert that paper into a digital format so that it can be processed and stored more efficiently. In the course of our research at Technology Tools for Today, we’ve recently tested a range of scanners that may be appropriate for individual advisors or small ensemble firms. Here are some of our findings:

Low-Volume Scanners for Solos and Road Warriors
If you are a road warrior, or if you are a solo practitioner who is mostly digital and only requires a minimal amount of scanning, the Canon imageFORMULA P-215 Scan-tini Personal Document Scanner is a solid choice. It is small (1.6 x 11.2 x 3.7 inches) and it is light (2.2 pounds). It can be powered either by A/C or USB. It can scan in either simplex or duplex mode in your choice of black and white or color. It includes a 20-page automatic document feeder (ADF). Given its tiny stature, the scanning speeds are impressive: 15 pages per minute (duplex) or 30 images per minute (simplex).

One appealing feature of the scanner is the inclusion of the CaptureOnTouch Lite software stored in the scanner’s memory. This allows for the almost instantaneous and effortless setup of this basic scanning software without the need to access an installation disk and walk through a more elaborate setup process. It does not have all of the features and options of the full CaptureOnTouch software, and this quick installation does not include the other software that comes packaged with the scanner, but for standard document scans it is automatic, quick and effective. The “lite” installation option is particularly appealing if you are using the scanner of a secondary computer outside your office, or if you are a novice to scanning.

For your primary computer, you will probably want to install the full software package. For Windows, this includes TWAIN and ISIS drivers, a full, more feature-rich copy of the CaptureOnTouch software, PaperPort 11 and BizCard 6 for scanning and filing business cards. The full software package for Mac includes a TWAIN driver, Page Manager 9 and BizCard 5.

TWAIN and ISIS drivers are important because they allow your scanner to communicate with third-party applications. For example, if you want to scan to the full version of CaptureOnTouch, PaperPort, Adobe Acrobat, Laserfiche, etc., you need a TWAIN or ISIS driver to do so. With these drivers, you can scan directly into the application of your choice, using the scanner interface of your choosing. You are not limited to the scanning software provided by the manufacturer. The CaptureOnTouch software allows you to install add-ins to provide additional functionality. For example, Canon offers an Evernote add-in. This installs two additional scan profiles to the software: one to scan documents into Evernote (with a default PDF file format) and one to scan handwritten notes (with a default JPEG format). Add-ins for Google and SharePoint are also available.

At a street price of about $275, the scanner is a good value. Surprisingly, Canon does not include an A/C adapter with the unit. For office use, we’d recommend you spend the $32.00 to get one. Road warriors can purchase a battery pack to power the scanner without draining their laptop battery, but at $175 it is a pricy accessory.

Moderate-Volume Scanners For Solos And Ensemble Firms
We recently tested two entry-level, small office scanners that we rated as excellent: the Canon imageFORMULA DR-C125 and the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500. At first glance, the specs on these two machines are very similar. Both sell at a street price of approximately $425.00. Both scan at 25 pages per minute. Both can scan in simplex and duplex. Both can scan in color, and both can scan business cards, ID cards, driver’s licenses, and the like. Both offer one-touch scanning, and both allow users to set up multiple scanning profiles, each with a different group of settings for specific tasks (color scan to e-mail, scan document to Evernote, etc.). Other features they have in common include: auto color detection and auto page size detection. The Canon weighs 5.6 pounds and the Fujitsu ScanSnap weighs 6.6 pounds, so both are light enough to pack up and take with you in a carrying case.

Although the two scanners share many similarities, there are some differences that will lead potential purchasers to one machine or the other, depending on what is important to the individual. Both scanners have an automatic document feeder, but their capacities differ. The Fujitsu ADF can hold 50 pages, while the Canon’s maximum capacity is 30 pages, so those who routinely deal with larger documents or batches of documents may favor the Fujitsu ScanSnap. Though both scanners take up relatively little desk space, the Canon is a bit taller and narrower than the Fujitsu. If you are working in tight quarters, you may have a preference for one shape or the other.

The ScanSnap features a direct paper path. As a general rule, we like this arrangement because it minimizes paper jams. The Canon offers two alternatives: the straight paper path and a “U”-shaped paper path. What’s the difference? When you use the straight paper path, you have the option of pulling out a paper catcher to receive the documents as they are scanned. This works well, but it takes up additional real estate on the desktop. You can scan without pulling out the paper catcher, but that can get sloppy. The “U”-shaped paper path saves space, allowing you to scan in a more confined space. We did not experience any paper jams in our tests with regular paper, but your experience could vary depending on the paper you use and other conditions. For very thick paper and for ID cards, embossed cards, etc., the straight paper path is the only option.

One notable feature of the Canon is the “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) sheet feeding. With the Canon, you place the pages front side forward, top up (facing you). Some users find this arrangement much more intuitive than the traditional top-down sheet facing away from you. The WYSIWYG method also can prevent errors, since you can actually see what you are about to feed into the scanner.

Perhaps the greatest difference between the Canon and the Fujitsu scanners is the inclusion of TWAIN and ISIS drivers with the Canon. As we mentioned above, the inclusion of these drivers allows the Canon to communicate seamlessly with virtually every third-party software application on the market. Fujitsu has certainly improved ScanSnap’s ability to communicate and interact with third-party software, but it still does not offer all of the options that the Canon does by virtue of the latter’s TWAIN and ISIS drivers.

Both scanners come bundled with various third-party software applications. We like the fact that the Fujitsu includes a full version of Adobe Acrobat X Standard. Even though this version has been superseded by Adobe Acrobat XI Standard, it is a useful, desirable piece of software. Nevertheless, both software bundles provide similar functionality, including the ability to scan to PDFs, edit and convert DF files to other formats, scan business cards and capture the information contained within those cards in a database and perform optical character recognition (OCR).

The one significant feature that the Fujitsu ScanSnap offers that the Canon does not is built-in Wi-Fi. This enables users to initiate a scan from one’s mobile device (iOS or Android) and scan to that device without the need to turn on one’s computer. For example, if you have an iPhone or an iPad equipped with the ScanSnap mobile app, you can put a document in the scanner, push the scan button on your mobile app, and your document will be scanned and then transported wirelessly to your mobile device.

As mentioned earlier, both scanners are compact and they are light enough to travel. While we don’t think the average advisor is going to carry one of these around all the time (the Canon imageFORMULA P-215 Scan-tini Personal Document Scanner is better suited for that), either one of these can be easily transported from an office to a home office or vacation home for a weekend. They can also be useful to capture business card information at a seminar or other event where you are likely to encounter a large group of prospects.

So which is the better buy? It really depends on what your needs are and what is important to you. If you value the Wi-Fi and mobile feature, the Fujitsu ScanSnap is very appealing. If you are working in very tight quarters, or if you value the TWAIN and ISIS drivers, the Canon would appear to be the better choice. In either case, you’ll benefit from excellent scanning quality and excellent paper handling for this price range as well as an easy-to-use scanning interface. We’d be happy to own either one of these fine machines.