For GFA Federal Credit Union, converting to paperless processes had to do with a lot more than the environment.
Since incorporating document management solutions into its retail banking operations, the $353.6 million credit union in Gardner, Mass., said it has saved on operational costs, seen increases in security and accountability, and improved the quality of its member service.
GFA’s relationship with its document management solution provider, the Avon, Conn.-based technology services vendor COCC, began back in 1987, COCC said. Prior to implementing the company’s document management solutions, credit union employees not only handled excessive amounts paper, they wasted excessive amounts of time.
Linda Carmichael, vice president of operations at GFA, explained that in the past, the new account opening process, for example, required employees to leave their desks to retrieve documents from filing cabinets. The cabinets also took up ample physical space in branches.
Now, with COCC’s document imaging technology, all forms and documents used for the credit union’s retail banking operations are electronic. According to Carmichael, the technology has also allowed the credit union to enable electronic signatures, as well as track all form and document-related activities within the system, which has helped lead to extra smooth reporting and auditing processes.
Carmichael named two key reasons for choosing COCC’s document management solutions. First, the technology is integrated to the credit union’s existing core banking system. Second, the vendor has the ability to provide technical support for GFA, which has a small IT department of its own.
“With GFA FCU, we focused on providing an opportunity to gain efficiencies and cut costs without adding staff members,” said Matthew L’Heureaux, vice president of product development at COCC. “The processes they had in place were serving them fine, but there was a lot of room for improvement.”
One unique feature of the new technology is its smart folders, which allow workers to subscribe to the types of documents they regularly use, Carmichael said. For example, auditors can choose to receive notifications for documents that enter the system during the new account opening process, assign statuses to documents, such as received or approved, and attach electronic sticky notes to documents.
GFA’s paperless initiative successes are in part due to the phased approach it has taken, according to the credit union. It began by turning its new account opening process into a paperless one because it’s a business area that involves many employees, Carmichael said. Then, taking one step at a time, GFA moved on to eliminating paper in other areas.
L’Heureaux said it’s wise for credit unions to begin by converting a process that’s especially encumbered with paper; then, the employees who work in that particular area, can serve as paperless process advocates throughout the organization.
Another key to the credit union’s paperless initiative was encouraging employee involvement at every stage, Carmichael and L’Heureaux agreed. The initiative kicked off with a staff meeting where COCC demonstrated its eSignature and document imaging technology, and the credit union later formed an eDocs team and GFA Innovations Committee to establish solid initiative leadership. Additionally, managers send employees a monthly letter detailing the credit union’s recent accomplishments.
“During COCC’s demonstration, you could feel the excitement in the room,” Carmichael said. “We knew that this was going to take us to another level.”
GFA also brought in college students to help identify small business process changes that would contribute to member service value. For example, during new account openings at the branches, employees swivel their computer monitors to face members as a rule.
Increased security is another benefit of COCC’s document management solutions. Since electronic documents can’t float around the office as printed documents can, members trust that their information is more secure, Carmichael said. L’Heureaux also pointed out that electronic documents can’t be processed until all required signatures have been completed, making it impossible to miss a signature.
With printed documents gone, the time employees save is invaluable, Carmichael and L’Heureaux agreed.
“I’m amazed by the concept of searching for a document electronically versus the old fashioned way of going to the filing cabinet,” L’Heureaux said. “When you’re combing through documents, you can’t answer phone calls or help your colleagues. And when you eliminate that physical piece, documents are in the system as soon as they’re signed.”
Implementing paperless technology demonstrates a modern approach to business that can help credit unions appeal to younger consumers, L’Heureaux added.
“If you think about the younger demographic, being ahead with technology improves the image of the credit union,” L’Heureaux said. “Gen Y doesn’t want to spend an entire lunch hour opening a new account.”
Now, approximately one year into the initiative’s launch, Carmichael said it’s changed the way GFA conducts day to day business. The credit union also plans to expand its paperless processes into other business areas, such as its loan origination process, in the human resources department and on the teller line.
“It’s not a project, it’s a new way of doing business,” Carmichael said. “It’s a culture change.”