Strategies: Cooperation, Technology Provide Efficiency Payoff
The era of the paperless office hasn’t arrived, but the drive for back-office efficiency continues.
At Affinity Group Credit Union in Michigan, the quest has prompted sharing of resources among five credit unions using Affinity Group as an indirect brand. At Virginia Credit Union, where efforts have been underway for some four years, it has meant getting used to a new workflow. The Credit Union of Denver has scrapped a lot of manual processing.
In each case, the people involved seem pleased with the results.
Carma Peters, Affinity Group chief operating officer, explained the credit unions involved maintain their identity to their membership. But although the name on the building remains the same, they gain cost efficiencies and the identity on the website or statements may be Affinity.
Credit cards have been brought in-house. There are accounting efficiencies. Aggregate buying power can cut costs. Underwriting is centralized and streamlined. Auditing costs have been reduced. So have conversion bills.
But what happens to say an accountant at one of the credit unions when the accounting function is combined?
"We’ve been able to make it work," Peters said. "For example, we’ve had people go to card services from accounting. We’re at the size where we’re looking at a quality assurance person, and that provides an opportunity for the staff."
Donna Riley, vice president/information technology at Credit Union of Denver, is using an on-line banking approach from Connect Financial Software Solutions. There’s a lot of opportunity to avoid generating paperwork, for example providing electronic disclosures which members can accept electronically.
There’s also the ability to automatically follow through when a member enrolls in a certain service. Previously if a member, for example, signed up for e-statements the credit union had to run a report then manually transfer information to the host system. A member’s e-mail address is now consistent everywhere.
"When we run a skip-a-pay loan promotion, if a member opts in, the information goes all the way to the host system and the due date is changed or whatever needs to be done is accomplished," Riley explained.
So far there have been no surprises, perhaps because the credit union did its homework upfront. Riley indicated she likes to know how things work. She suggested when a credit union schedules a presentation from a vendor, it’s a good idea to have IT staff or other experts on hand who can ask in-depth questions.
Several years ago, Virginia Credit Union wanted quick, easy access to records from signature cards to loan documents. The credit union was eager to ditch manual, paper-based processes and an elderly imaging system. It turned out that off-the-shelf products had to be completely customized.
Cara Gwinn, then in charge of records management, said mortgage lending was a key area targeted for efficiency gains.
"We bought a product that allows us to do intelligent capture and recognition of incoming documents," she explained. "It reduced the time needed to archive a document and start handling those documents real-time. We could get rid of, for the most part, the paper files. When something comes in it triggers a notice to the person responsible for that loan. It monitors compliance so we know what has gone out."
A similar project involved consumer lending. Incoming documents no long have to been handled on a manual, page-by-page basis.
There has also been a sharp drop in mail returned because of an incorrect address or because the forwarding address expired. There was a substantial volume of such orphan mail, and the post office was cracking down. Now an approach is in place to more easily verify addresses.
Gwinn indicated such efficiency can require a completely different mindset and getting used to a new workflow. "Start small," she advised. "We began with the hardest thing we could possibly pick–real estate. It would have been easier to start small, learn and grow."