Financial services struggle with forms versus content

A wide selection of content management software has not helped the financial services sector rid itself of the redundancies, duplication of effort and storage problems associated with handling its data, experts told a seminar Tuesday.

At a Fujitsu Consulting-sponsored seminar on e-content,

Merrill Lynch vice-president of private document technology Anthony Deakins said his company is in the midst of consolidating a variety of content management platforms that have grown into its infrastructure over the years. He said the project has already shown overlap where documents have been unnecessarily filed more than once.

That’s not as bad as another financial services firm, whom Deakins would not name directly, which he said has 28 different name and address databases for its various clients in insurance, retail banking and wealth management. “”What if it’s the same customer?”” he said. “”That’s a ‘What if?’ that doesn’t happen very often.””

Deakins estimated that about 60 per cent of financial services information is “”document premised,”” In other words, information is garnered from one document format and transfered into another format. About 75 per cent of these documents are forms, he said, most of them created by the firm itself, and about 30 per cent of which have to do with taxation. The result is a lot of paper and not enough e-forms, Deakins told the audience. This creates more business for the paper storage companies, but it doesn’t translate into a proper e-content strategy.

“”I would have invested in (paper storage companies) but it seemed like a conflict of interest because we use them so much,”” he said. “”We keep everything in boxes because we don’t trust the system.””

That trust could come once organizations have made better use of their investments in technology, said Vito Mabrucco, a group vice-president of products and services research at IDC Canada. Mabrucco said many enterprises, especially banks, were once proud of the data warehouses they set up in the late 1990s but they have failed to make the best use of them because they were unconnected to key applications. That integration is happening now, he said, as companies turn to outsourcers to bring together the various silos of information. IDC has forecast a compound annual growth rate for content management and retrieval services of 44 per cent this year.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are plenty of firms trying to enter this space, as Mabrucco demonstrated with a slide that showed dozens of vendors. “”There’s going to be some consolidation here,”” he said. “”You’re going to have to be very careful that you don’t align yourself with a supplier that’s going to get bought out and then have a solution that’s not supported.””

Deakins said smart financial services firms could get started by taking advantage of applications that allow executives do to some of the things — like annotating — that they commonly do to paper documents. Signatures are another example. For any one document signed by a customer, Deakins said, there could be six people in the firm who have to sign off on the document as well. Companies may be wary of using electronic forms which could be altered, but Deakins noted that many people aren’t aware of electronic signatures that effectively seal the document or void it if it’s changed.

The rise of voice and video applications is leading to more unstructured data in the organization, but if effectively managed this can be combined in ways that add unique value, Mabrucco said. At IDC, for example, Mabrucco recently sent out a planning document which he knows will elicit questions and visits from his staff. “”It would be so great to add a voice message with that document where I can explain it to them without having to type it all out,”” he said, but admitted isn’t going to happen soon. “”We’re good, but we’re not that good.””

However Ellen Reilly, vice-president of Fujitsu Consulting’s practice, warned companies to keep their customers’ resources in mind before trying those kinds of data combinations. “”If a customer doesn’t have a high-speed connection, they could be sitting there forever trying to listen to that audio file,”” she said. “”They become frustrated and then you lose them.””

A former Xerox Corp. executive, Deakins said the financial services industry is hampered in its content management efforts by centralized systems where physical documents are sorted in the mailroom. This exposes them to a greater margin of error than a system where documents are captured at the first point of contact — the expected recipient. That’s because in some financial services firms, there may be as many as 3,000 different types of documents with which, ideally, the mailroom workers should be familiar. “”We’re competing with Burger King and McDonald’s for these people,”” he said. “”They’ll pick the 15 types of documents they like and they won’t learn the rest.””

Despite the advantages, document management faces the same kind of budget scrutiny as other IT initiatives in large organizations, Reilly said. “”In some cases they’re saying, ‘This isn’t any better for me,'”” she said. “”They’re saying, ‘It was easier to walk over and find it in a filing cabinet.'””


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