PDF/A in finance and industry

PDF/A in a Nutshell 2.0 – PDF for long-term archiving

Engineering drawing

Businesses benefit from the ISO standard for long-term archiving because it helps them to store digital documents in compliance with legal requirements. PDF/A-3 has further increased adoption rates within the financial sector, as this new part of the standard can also be used to keep source documents organised.

Industry documentation

The aeroplane manufacturer Airbus was a pioneer in the use of PDF/A. Aeroplane blueprints must be preserved for at least 99 years. Back in 2002, one of the manufacturer’s working groups recognised that PDF was in some respects well-suited to long-term archiving, but also that it contained a number of problematic functions. The team therefore first developed a “minimal PDF” which was used for digital archiving until PDF/A became available.

The construction industry has recognised the advantages of features like PDF/A-3’s “container” functionality. Mechanical engineering companies, for example, can preserve original 3D models in any format as part of the PDF/A-3 file.

NIRMA (the Nuclear Information and Records Management Association) also recommends PDF/A when working with nuclear technology in the United States. The US-based energy provider Southern Co. has been using PDF/A for years to ensure that all digital documents relating to nuclear installations will remain readable into the future.

Banking and insurance

PDF/A helps the German health insurance provider Techniker Krankenkasse with a bonus programme for its customers. It begins with the company scanning existing bonus booklets in colour. This file is used to create a PDF/A with compressed images and searchable text, which can then be archived and sent onwards.

Helaba, the state bank of Hesse and Thuringia, uses PDF/A to handle incoming post and to archive emails. It also stores digital credit documents in PDF/A format.

The banking and insurance sector often requires credit and insurance files to be retained for 50 or more years.


As a rule, documents such as doctors’ notes, statements, lab reports, and X-ray and tomographic images must be retained for 30 years or more.

The medical centre at Greifswald University Hospital, for example, uses PDF/A to archive its patient records – including digital signatures and timestamps. Due to requirements of legal certainty, digital signatures play a critical role in medical statements.

PDF/A is used in doctors’ practices as well as in clinics. The Lake Constance Radiation Oncology Centre uses PDF/A to process and archive digital patient records.


The standardised document and data format ZUGFeRD was created to make it easier to exchange digital invoices. It is the result of a joint initiative between BITKOM (Bundesverband Informationswirtschaft, Telekommunikation und neue Medien e.V.) and FeRD (Forum elektronische Rechnung Deutschland). The ZUGFeRD exchange format also uses PDF/A-3. It embeds invoice data in XML format to allow the recipient of an invoice to process it automatically.

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About Alexandra Oettler

Alexandra Oettler ist (Co-) Autorin der Bücher PDF/A kompakt und PDF/A kompakt 2.0.

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