TEN years ago, when the Securities and Exchange Commission's electronic filing program was in its infancy, some industry analysts predicted the demise of financial printers.
With paperless filing, a significant chunk of the printers' business would simply disappear, they said, and further demand for their specialized services would dwindle.
But financial printers such as Bowne & Co. Inc., the country's largest and reputedly fastest, have proved the doomsayers wrong in spades. Turning themselves into gurus of EDGAR, the SEC's new electronic filing system, the printers have become tutors, filing agents, and a valuable interface for companies sending documents to the Washington-based commission.
``By the time all public companies are on-line with EDGAR in 1995, the filing program may add an extra $100 million in new business to the financial printing market,'' a recent issue of PrintingNews said.
Bowne was one of the first to spot the potential impact of EDGAR. Working closely with the SEC to develop the program has payed off. The company posted record profits in 1992 and 1993 and announced a record first quarter this year as well.
What Bowne offers companies is a fully ``EDGARized'' staff - people who are familiar with all the latest wrinkles in the program, which itself is constantly evolving.
``After 60 years, you got the paper filing down, now it's changing,'' says Bowne's Gary Purnhagen sympathetically to a group from the Boston investment community. As manager of technical services at Bowne's New York headquarters, Purnhagen has been holding EDGAR seminars all over the country to familiarize companies with the new procedure.
He runs through the tasks ahead: training staff to EDGARize documents, buying hardware and software, and doing test filings among others.
JEFF WALLS then talks of his own investment management company's travails in adjusting to EDGAR. An assistant vice president at Scudder, Stevens & Clark Inc. in Boston, he sums up the experience: ``Preparing for EDGAR is like preparing for a wedding. You set the date far in advance; you seem to find out about new rules along the way; it takes a lot of talented people to get it right; and even when you panic, you know there's no way to get out of it.''
The financial printers hope panicky companies will turn to them as a fallback or even a regular filing agent for EDGAR documents too complex to file in-house. But companies' initial qualms will smooth out over time, Mr. Walls suggests.
For ``unlike a wedding,'' he says, ``the key to the EDGAR process is to go through it again and again.''