Like many of the biggest banks, Citigroup Inc. has struggled with shifting its millions of customers to electronic statements. Its breakthrough came when it built a centralized platform called EDelivery.

Citi has dozens of business lines, and its right hand does not always know what the left hand is doing. This made its migration to e-statements slow and expensive - Citi had to pay for the redundant technology that each unit used to create and store documents.

"Each line of business was pursuing paperless statements, with its own software and programs," says Michelle Erickson, initiatives director for Citigroup's sustainable Information Technology program. "It was a huge problem, and [Citi needed to maintain] a labor force to manage the software and physical infrastructure."

EDelivery acts as "global utility," Erickson says. It is the starting point for electronic statements and communications for all Citi business units.

This consolidated model is a good way to spur banks' paperless efforts, experts say. It streamlines the e-statement creation process and prevents the bank from reinventing the wheel every time a unit wishes to shift to paperless delivery.

EDelivery went live last year, and is currently being used in Citi's credit card unit. It is being tested in its retail banking, mortgages and private bank divisions, among others.

All business lines that have their own e-statement platforms must sunset them and move to the EDelivery platform, Erickson says.

While banks talk a lot about cross-channel integration, the reality is that they still maintain rigid silos with separate budgets, says Nicole Sturgill, research director at TowerGroup. That can make banks look very ad hoc in their communications with customers.

A unified platform for electronic communication can certainly give banks more consistency, Sturgill says. But a bigger problem is consumers' general lack of trust in electronic statements. That can only be alleviated by giving them a deep archive and assurances about access.

In May, the most recent month for which Citi could provide data, EDelivery helped it cut out 20 million paper statements for credit card customers globally, Erickson says. Going forward, EDelivery will support Citi's global attempt to move customer communications to a purely electronic environment through what the bank calls Digital Delivery.

Citi's card group uses Digital Delivery to speed its response to fraud reports, for example.

In the past, Ericskon says, Citi had to send paper forms for fraud victims to fill out. Customers would send those in and then wait for a reply. This back-and-forth could span several payment cycles, Erikson says.

Now, the EDelivery system lets the bank handle these matters using an interactive PDF, which the bank pre-fills with customer information. Customers add information in a secure mode online. They then sign the PDF electronically and email it back.

This process takes minutes, rather than days or weeks.

A streamlined response to fraud is critical, says James Van Dyke, principal and founder of Javelin Strategy and Research. According to research Javelin conducted in February, consumers spent an average of 33 hours trying to resolve fraud incidents with their banks. Despite zero-liability protections, consumers paid an average of $630.

"Having a standardized, electronic process across all lines of business is really vital to minimizing losses and hanging on to customers," Van Dyke says.