For one Massachusetts credit union, studying ways to go paperless while improving its business processes overall was not just an academic exercise.
GFA FCU in Gardner relied on the work of a pair of summer interns, students from a local community college who studied the credit union's operations and came up with a series of concrete suggestions while they gained some real-world experience.
The project began last spring under the guidance of Michael Greenwood, an experienced business processes and leadership executive who teaches business and economics at Mount Wachusett Community College.
The student interns-one not long out of high school, the other returning to school after a layoff-spent several weeks at the credit union and delivered a 200-page white paper and a PowerPoint presentation.
"We asked the college to do this because we wanted a nonbanking perspective, a nonregulatory perspective, someone with a clean view of what we do and how we could do it better," said Linda Carmichael, senior vice president of operations, risk and technology at 20,000-member GFA.
They got answers in buckets, five of them to be exact. The students identified five "value proposition categories"-such as GFA as a "partner" with members and "utility" that provides low-cost services-and then worked to make sure that each suggested change they identified fit into at least one of these buckets, Greenwood said.
"We wanted to achieve outcomes that align with each of those key imperatives and would result in measurable benefits," Greenwood said.
"Their operations were very typical, wasting time touching a lot of paper, filing a lot of paper. We looked at that and knew before we could eliminate paper use we needed to understand their work process flow," he said.
So the interns went to work. First came the low-hanging fruit, Greenwood said, such as suggesting a printer on each branch manager's desk so they would not have to leave a member while going to a shared one.
"Linda laughed and called that a no-brainer and went one step further. Since they're moving into more of a paperless environment as part of this, she bought printer scanners for them," the professor said.
Another change was going to wireless keyboards and mouse setups so the screen could be spun around and members could easily do electronic signatures and look at documents at the staffer's desk.
And yet another was receiving faxes via computer rather than fax machine. Changes to the kind of data and workflows captured on executive dashboards also were suggested.
Altogether, the students identified 55 initiatives to lower costs while adding member value. They calculate the return on investment to be 64% and an internal rate of return of 79%.
GFA also needed input from the vendor side, so Carmichael and her CEO, Tina Sbrega, turned to their core technology provider, COCC in Avon, Conn., for some answers.
Now the credit union is deploying paperless processes in three phases, first with the new account opening process, followed by tellers and then accounting and human resources. Members will only be given paper records if they ask for them. "Their experts shared best practices and workflow that have raised ROI in paperless institutions today. They also introduced us to these clients so we could exchange ideas," Carmichael said.
Robert Bessel, COCC's director of marketing and public relations, said account opening is a particularly good place to start a paperless drive, because of the efficiencies it brings to a process that touches so many areas-including the core platform and authentication procedures.
"One of the things about document management in general is that it's a real silo buster," he said. "It touches workflows almost everywhere in the credit union, and when you have a workflow like they did here, it's a perfect marriage of technology and analysis."