COLUMBIA, S.C. – While it’s hard to pin a dollar amount on the savings credit unions enjoy after adopting paperless receipt systems, those that have jumped on the bandwagon, and the core processors serving them, agree the time has come. “We certainly see a growing interest in receipt imaging. It’s a no-brainer for credit unions,” says John Edwards, senior vice president of business development at XP Systems (www.xpsystems.com) in Moorpark, Calif. And Anne Stauch, a client executive at EDS (www.eds.com), says about 15% of the Texas electronic services giant’s credit union clients are currently planning to install such systems, and about 100 already have. The idea is simple: An electronic pad much like you see in retail stores is used at the teller station (and in some cases, for loan applications.) Members get their receipt on paper as always, but the credit union’s half is stored electronically. That cuts paper use and allows the use of cheaper stock than carbonless or two-ply forms. (And it doesn’t have to have the CU logo imprinted on it in a lot of cases; the printer can do that.) There also are savings to be realized in storage (electronic vs. physical storage for the required seven years) and, of course, it’s much easier to search and retrieve that way, too. “We don’t have to search through boxes and boxes of receipts in storage. It’s just right there on the screen,” says Rynee Henderson, operations manager of Deere Community FCU (www.dcfcu.com) in Ottumwa, Iowa, which has about 29,000 members and $100 million in assets. Deere Community is a CUSA Technologies client and is using that core processor’s Teller SignIt system. The teller information is stored in three, 18-gig hard drives and the CU is now scanning in loan documents, too. “We’re getting rid of our filing cabinets,” Henderson says. She says she couldn’t easily put a price tag on the new system, since it’s tightly integrated with the core system the CU bought from CUSA (www.cusa.com), but says obvious efficiencies in manpower are being realized and “the paper costs about half of what we were paying.” CUSA, in fact, says it is including the SignIt system in all new sales. Deere Community also is testing personal loan application signature capture, which would eliminate the need for scanning, and plans to have an even more integrated system when it gets the Windows XP version of CUSA’s platform coming out in the next quarter or two, Henderson says. HOW THIS THING WORKS Here’s how a typical deployment would work, according to Nish Shah, chief technology officer at Integrated Media Management (www.immonline.com), a Linden, N.J., firm with about 250 credit union customers. “A credit union would purchase our QwikReceipt software and the signature pads,” Shah says. “The teller creates a receipt which is signed electronically using a signature pad, and an indexed PDF is created which can be sent to COLD storage or an imaging system.” Depending on who you ask, a typical hardware installation at a $200 million credit union with 30,000 members, about 60 signature pads and 30 printers would cost $35,000 to $40,000, with a return-on-investment (the point at which the savings exceed the costs) of 15 months to three years. But there are a lot of intangibles. The savings so far are hard to quantify but the increased efficiencies are obvious, says Gary Budd, vice president of information systems at Triangle Credit Union, a $168 million, 22,000-member community charter organization in Nashua, N.H. (www.trianglefcu.org) Budd’s CU volunteered itself as a beta site for the QwikReceipt system that XP Systems is offering its core-processing clients, using IMM as a third-party partner. “We built a new main office about 2 1/2 years ago and were able to use storage space in that, but now we are running out of space and eventually would have had to go offsite again for storage, at pretty stiff price,” says Budd, whose CU processes about 50,000 transactions a month. He expects the ROI for Triangle’s investment in QwikReceipt to be reached in about three years, but like others, already says the benefits are accruing in a number of ways, including better member service and more efficient internal operations, and even the opportunity to easily put new marketing messages on the forms handed out at the teller window. Faster teller lines, better documentation for settling disputes and elimination of simple human errors in things filing are some other benefits. The savings a CU would realize from implementing signature-capture technology, of course, would depend in part on the size of the operation, but they can be substantial. “We typically see savings of somewhere between 25% and 75% of the cost of how they were doing it before,” says Hal Tilbury, CEO of Bluepoint Solutions (www.bluepointsolutions.com) in Carlsbad, Calif. Tilbury, whose company has about credit unions using its Receipt Manager products, says those savings include less-expensive paper (and less of it), less demand for storage and less staff time devoted to storing and retrieving documents. He says a CU with about 20,000 members or more probably uses at least one full-time equivalent (FTE) in staff time to manage paper storage and retrieval. “That’s not usually one person doing just that, but adding it all up with an hour or two here for this person, an hour or two for that. Receipt Manager is a solution for that expense,” Tilbury says. There also are security advantages. “Signature verification provides a safeguard against fraud and a protection for members,” says Stauch at EDS. Her company’s system enables CUs to ensure the signee is the actual member because the software “extracts measurements and creates a secure signature template” that the new signature is compared with each time it’s used at a window. The vendors also say that integrating the pads and image-capturing platform, which are often both provided by a third party, has not been problematic. For instance, at EDS, open-database, Microsoft-based technology took care of that, Stauch says. At CUSA, signature capture works with either the core teller system or Visual Reliance, the core processor’s Windows-based teller system, says Scott Bramhall, national sales manager for Pennsylvania-based CUSA, which serves about 950 credit unions. “CUSA has developed all of the pieces and doesn’t rely on third parties, so interfacing is not a problem because they were designed to work together,” he says. Six CUSA credit unions have now installed SignIt and another six are in the queue to be installed, the company says. WHAT’S NEXT? So, where does it go from here? Besides growing the number of users themselves, vendors are looking at ways to broaden the use of signature capture. Loan applications are following close behind teller transactions (especially in terms of eliminating the need to scan documents), developers are working on ways to move the pads out to the drive-through line, and some vendors, such as EDS, say they are moving the technology into the Internet loan-application arena. There are a number of vendors providing the pads – Topaz, Penware and ePad and many others – and a variety of printers on the market, as well. Those choices also can be expected to grow, observers say. The Topaz signature pads used by IMM cost $345 each, while the small-footprint Star thermal printers cost $575 each, so the “out of pocket depends on the specific needs of the credit union,” says Shah at IMM, noting that usually each teller station has its own signature pad and shares a printer with another station. And there are some other costs to consider. “Toner cartridges are more expensive than ribbons from our old dot-matrix printers,” says Dan Saltmarsh, IS administrator at Triangle FCU. “And when a toner’s done, it’s done. You can’t just use it as it fades slowly away like with a ribbon.” The other expenses, of course, include the hardware (hard drives, optical disks, CD’s, etc.) used to store the data, and the cost and effort of “having to add things to our pretty elaborate storage system,” Saltmarsh says. He also says the “the technology as a whole is expensive, but remember, this comes from a lot of R&D, so that’s understandable.” And, at the bottom line, he concludes the signature-capture system at Triangle will begin showing hard savings in a couple years, but in the meantime, “it’s very quick, members like it, and the efficiency in not having to deal with paper receipts alone is worth the price,” says Saltmarsh. – mrapport@sc.rr.com