By Christina Bowe, Regional Director UK & Ireland, Perceptive Software

There’s no shortage of startups in the financial services industry. Whether they’re online-only financial institutions or diversified financial services companies that are using the Web to expand into new markets, these competitive threats are pressuring established financial institutions to hold onto their traditional customers and develop their own growth plans.

Fortunately, financial institutions have a unique advantage that even the most aggressive online insurgents can’t overcome: the exceptional customer service and high-touch relationships made possible by professionals in their branch financial institutions. These essential eyes and ears in local markets can turn customer service into a competitive differentiator.

Branch employees can provide in-depth knowledge into each transaction; this knowledge can help reduce errors, exceptions and delays in everything from processing loans and credit-card applications to opening new accounts.

Digital solutions conquer paper challenges

The challenge for financial institutions is how to support branch workers with the information they need about customers and service offerings to fulfil this important role. Many bank information-management systems, however, fall short of giving branch workers the tools they need to succeed.

For example, opening a new account at a branch bank typically starts when a customer completes a paper-based application. Many financial institutions still require those forms to be physically transported from branches to headquarters to complete the process. Industry research organisation InfoTrends estimates that only about 18 per cent of financial institutions currently scan images of new-account applications directly into backend electronic systems.

New business opportunities

It’s clear that manual processes similarly plague information collection for loans. With inefficient, manual processes like these, workers have less time to devote to high-quality customer service — and human error is more likely to creep into bank activities.

Modernising manual, paper-based bank processes offers other incentives, too, such as the closer contact between branch workers and customers it enables. This interaction creates more chances to uncover upselling and cross-selling opportunities that can accelerate business growth. In addition, the operational efficiencies made possible by the latest information-management solutions reduce costs. And automated checklists can reduce errors and omissions by flagging cases when branch personnel try to submit incomplete paperwork.

Choose the right solutions

There’s a lot for financial institutions to like about the latest information-management systems, but what do managers need to look for to turn branch personnel into customer-service all-stars? These characteristics distinguish industry-leading solutions:

1. A comprehensive framework. The solution should provide all the hardware and software required for capturing electronic and paper-based information and sending it to back-end core banking applications and repositories. Key components include smart multifunction printers (MFPs) for capturing information. In addition, an automated workflow solution is necessary for streamlining account openings, loan origination and other revenue-generating activities by intelligently routing information to the proper destinations.
2. Sort and classify capabilities. Solutions must be able to handle information from the various sources branch workers use (paper documents, faxes, emails, digital signature pads, mobile apps and websites) and forward it to the automation workflow solution.
3. Sophisticated tools for verifying information completeness and accuracy. This significantly reduces the number of exceptions bank personnel must address and improves the overall efficiency of branch workers.
4. A comprehensive, integrated solution from a single vendor. This lets financial institutions avoid the extra time and costs associated with integrating individual point solutions and provide one point of contact that can handle any questions that arise.
5. Tailored solutions that can handle banking information needs and regulatory requirements. Solution providers that have extensive experience in financial services can customise information-handling and workflow processes for the unique needs of financial institutions.

Gain a competitive advantage

Financial institutions are facing unprecedented pressure to keep valuable customers and cultivate new ones. Branch workers offer unique value for improving customer service and uncovering business opportunities. With the right information-management solution in place, financial institutions can fully exploit the power of their branches and remain a step ahead of the competition.