Storing Financial Records in the Cloud

Fifteen years of data to store

Fifteen years ago I became a serious investor.  I didn’t want to pay the high commission costs that even discount brokers charged in those days. I wanted to make several very small purchases each month so that I could slowly build up a diversified portfolio of stocks.

I learned abut Dividend Reinvestment Plans (DRIPs or sometimes DRPs).  These plans allowed you to purchase stock directly from companies with little or no commission and dividends paid by your companies may be reinvested in additional shares of stock.

The one acknowledged problem with DRIPs is that you had to keep all the individual records from each DRIP yourself.  So I put all the investment information (number of shares purchased, price per share for that purchase, etc.) into Quicken.  I kept the statements I received after each purchase and at the end of the year, I filed away the annual statement of all activity in the DRIP for that year.

Although you can still open DRIPs (and I still have many of the original ones I started years ago), two things have happened to make them less appealing: the costs of DRIPs has generally gone up and the internet revolution has made it much cheaper to invest using an online discount broker.  In many cases the cost of making a DRIP investment is higher than making the same investment at a discount broker online.  I haven’t opened a new DRIP in over a decade.

Where to store fifteen years of financial records

After moving many of my DRIPS to a discount broker, and selling others, I still have a core holding of 16 DRIPs.  An annual statement runs between one and four pages, depending on how much activity took place in the DRIP.  After 15 years, the information on these core DRIPs runs to several hundred pages and grows each year.  If I decide to sell one of these investments, I’ll need these statements if the IRS questions my cost basis.

I could simply leave the records in paper form, but suppose there is a fire, flood, or burglary — well maybe not a burglary since I can’t picture someone carting off these records that would be of no use to them.  Another problem is that if I die without telling my heirs where these papers are located, they might well get tossed out as junk by someone who doesn’t understand their value.

So, not surprisingly I decided to store them in the cloud.  There are two phases to moving paper records to the cloud.  One is the digitizing phase where the papers get transformed into computer files — I chose to save the data as PDF files.  The second phase is to upload the computer files to the cloud.  Converting paper files to computer files was greatly facilitated by my recently acquired Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500.

This is a great document scanner that I’ll describe it in detail in a future CCFF blogpost.  A key characteristic is that it scans at a quoted rate of 20 pages per minute.  So I loaded the 15 years worth of records for one DRIP into the “stacker” and pushed the blue button on the right side.  In less than a minute, a PDF file was generated containing all the data for that DRIP.

The paperwork, converted to PDF format, now was ready to be uploaded into the cloud.  I had to make a decision about where in the cloud to store it.  My first choice was Evernote (see previous blog post).  I’ve been storing the majority of my online notes and documents in Evernote because of it’s great tagging and OCR capability.  But in this case, I really don’t need to search and retrieve information from these DRIP records.  So not wanting to clog up Evernote with information I’d never search for, I decided to more the files to Google Docs.  The total storage requirement for all the DRIP information was less than 60 megabytes, which is only 5% of the total allocation for free users.

It took only a few minutes to upload all the 16 files of DRIP information to my Google Docs account.  What I really enjoyed was tossing all those hundreds of dusty pages into the recycle bin.

A not so obvious advantage of storing in the cloud

Earlier I mentioned the issue that my heirs might not realize the importance of the DRIP (paper) records and toss them out, losing the opportunity to prove to the IRS the cost basis of the DRIPs.  Now that the paper records are gone, replaced by cloud files, how do I inform my heirs of the location of this information?  The solution: make them collaborators on the Google Docs folder containing these files.  Now they have direct access to the folder of financial information right in their own Google Docs account.  Everyone in my immediate family has a Google account, so there is no problem sharing these files with them.  That was one reason why I chose to keep the information in Google Docs rather than in some equally useful cloud space.  I’ll label the shared folder something like, “DRIP info for cost basis”.

Now I think I’ll tackle the mountain of mutual fund statements that I’ve collected over the years!

Dropbox — Almost in the Cloud




I’ve been told that “Dropbox” is a good place to store files in the cloud. Is that true?

While I’m a big fan of Dropbox and use it all the time, technically speaking, it is not a cloud storage location. Here is a link to the Dropbox website: https://www.dropbox.com/

Dropbox is a wonderful online extension to your desktop computing, but it’s missing a key cloud component as we’ll see.

When installed, Dropbox puts a folder on your desktop computer. It looks and works like any other folder (or directory) on your computer. You move files into your dropbox folder; you take files out of your Dropbox folder. If you put a Word document into the Dropbox folder, then you can edit it in Word directly in your Dropbox folder.

So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that you can put your Dropbox folder on every computer you use (home PC, laptop, work computer). You can even put it on your iPhone. Any files you store in the Dropbox folder are synchronized among all your computers. If you edit a file in the Dropbox folder at work and then return home, the file is on your home PC is identical with the file at work, with all the edits you performed at work in place. If you take your laptop to a hotspot and make a change to the file, the version on both your home computer and your work computer reflect this change.

Dropbox has one more trick. Your files are accessible online (once you log in to the Dropbox website). If you visit a friend and use his computer’s browser, you can log on to Dropbox.com and access your file. You can download the file to your friends computer, make changes in the file and then upload it to Dropbox.com. Now your laptop, home computer, and work computer will all have this update. Amazing!

But you said Dropbox isn’t a cloud computing site. It sure sounds like one. Why isn’t it in the cloud”?

The key component that Dropbox is missing for cloud computing is there is no software to process files at the Dropbox website. Remember when you were at your friend’s house you had to download the file to his PC to work on it. That’s because there is no wordprocessing software (or other document processing software) at Dropbox. Even when you worked on your file at work, home, or on your laptop, your computer had to supply the software. If you didn’t have Word on one of the computers, then you couldn’t edit the file in the Dropbox folder.

So Dropbox is a wonderful way to alway have access to a file on all your computers, but you have to do your processing on those computers and not in the cloud.

Dropbox lets you store up to 2 gigabytes of data for free online, just not in the cloud.


A Cloud Computing Example

Can you give me an example of  the advantages of cloud computing over desktop computing?  Why, for example, would I want to create a Google Doc file in the cloud rather than a Word Document on my computer?

Suppose you had a Word Document on your computer and, just to play around, you uploaded that document to Google Docs. If you flew from your East Coast home to Los Angeles to visit with a friend, you’d see the cloud advantage (once your flight finally left the ground).  The Google Doc file is available from your friend’s computer (PC, Mac, Linux).  Your Word file is still sitting on your PC at home, completely useless to you in LA.

Your friend, who is looking over your shoulder, says, “That document is pretty good, but it needs to be polished.  Too much use of the passive voice, too many pronouns with indefinite antecedents”.  At this point you remember your friend majored in English.  “Let me have a go at it and I’ll fix it up”, says your friend.  So, you tell the cloud (Google Docs) to let your friend have access to the file as an editor so he can muck around with your prose.

You fly home (after another interminable wait at the airport) and pour a glass of wine, since those airport delays always leave you frazzled. You open your browser to your Google Docs account.  You notice that your document now reads like it was written by an English major and you’re delighted with the changes your friend made.  The only problem is that on the flight back (or was it while you were still on the tarmac waiting those two hours to take off?) you thought of one more thing that should be in the document.  So you type, “It has been established by him that the cost of raw materials for this project is much higher than it needs to be.”

You go to refill your wine glass and  when you return to look at what you just wrote, you find it now says, “Professor Johnston established that the cost of raw materials for this project is much too high”.  Once again your friend has polished your file.

And working in the cloud is free, right?      Right!

Harvey Levine

harvey@cloudcomputingforfree.com