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February 15, 2012 by Ted Thames Ted Thames

Let’s Make 2012 the Year of Internal Collaboration

120215aGonzobankers, unless we all really learn to play together, the toys in our banker’s toy box can get broken, or never get used to their fullest potential. I’m talking collaboration here, collaboration within the bank that lets us make the best use of opportunities and technology.

I understand how initiatives designed to make strategic improvements in customer service or operating processes can get off track. (And I see how the larger the institution, the more often this happens.) Sometimes, we get balled up over who should be leading various initiatives and who should be playing a supporting role. Sometimes we are just too busy to take time to touch base with all stakeholders. Often, there is no formal process in place to ensure that decisions get the proper balanced attention from line of business, technology and marketing leadership. But bankers, by sidestepping the collaboration efforts, are we missing a lot of opportunities?

I consult on a daily basis with a lot of different financial institutions, and it’s always interesting to see which way the collaboration opportunity scale tips. Here’s a quick quiz an institution can use to gauge its internal collaboration efforts.

  • When choosing a technology solution, do all our stakeholders discuss the pros and cons – and look at both functionality and integration with existing systems?
  • When trying to improve an area where a technology investment could make a major positive difference, do our technology and operational managers have a clear understanding of each other’s requirements?
  • Are special knowledge and customer intelligence (which costs money to obtain) being used by line of business managers as they make decisions related to how best to serve customers?
  • Are the right people within the bank leading the new product development process?

Institutions that answer “yes” to these questions score big points on the collaboration meter. Give these folks a Collaboration Gold Star! For those that didn’t do so well, and for those that are always open to beefing up collaboration and the better decisions it can foster, I offer up the following.

Functionality vs. Integration

In our consulting practice, we’ve witnessed countless software platform demos during which a vendor plays up its product’s feature functionality and downplays its integration. Careful collaboration among line of business managers, IT and other users early in the process of selecting a strategic software platform can help alleviate some of the service and productivity impacts that can result from a lack of good system integration.

Time for CRM Investment

It we’re going to measure ourselves by “share of wallet,” we need to get more serious about building deeper relationships. Most core operating systems have customer relationship management tools either built in or readily available, and while the majority of larger institutions have CRM tools in place, many mid-size institutions still do not. If a branch employee doesn’t have easy awareness today of the details of a long conversation a customer had yesterday with a call center agent, it sends a message to the customer that we don’t care. Retail banking leaders should be able to rely on the bank’s technology resources to know the CRM systems available and how well the tools integrate with core and other systems. Once systems are vetted and a selection is made, the collaboration should continue through implementation. Successful projects help collaboration become part of the bank’s culture, which is the best result.

120215bUse All the Cross-Selling Tools You Have

I can’t tell you how many retail managers tell me they don’t get access to customer credit reports. In opening new accounts, something like a Qualifile report is generally pulled to check on past banking activity. If the credit-offer recommendations in the report are not being used to cross-sell a loan product at the point a new checking customer is set up, lending and retail should collaborate to make this happen.

Another often lost opportunity relates to mortgage applications. It’s probably the best picture of the customer available to the bank. Image-based workflow systems that allow easier access to loan documents are becoming much more common. Obviously we must be aware of regulatory restrictions. However, smart and determined people usually figure out ways to leverage information when they collaborate.

Ask Marketing for Help

The old MCIF system in the marketing department is capable of feeding front line people good information. With a little help from technology experts, the MCIF can provide a true picture of the next logical product for the customer. Marketing, lending and IT (or electronic banking) should collaborate to develop pre-approved consumer loan offers through multiple communications channels – even small commercial loan offers that can be delivered via branch, phone and secured Web page.

Proactive Collaboration with Technology Resources

There are great opportunities for collaboration between technology and retail business lines in reacting to new regulatory requirements, but it takes collaboration and good governance. Leaders from both groups benefit from preliminary discussions with compliance resources when facing new rules and compliance requirements. The earlier these conversations can take place, the better. This can happen prior to new rules becoming final since deadlines for compliance are becoming shorter these days.

Most of the time, in our experience, lending policies and procedures are written and vetted by lending and compliance, right? In many cases, retail leadership does not see the policy until the cement is dry. I have to believe that a collaborative conversation with retail for feedback and ideas might uncover opportunity in the changes. Even the often tedious chore of annual software releases can be turned into an opportunity to improve policies and procedures. 

While we are on the subject, it is essential that line of business leaders collaborate with technology resources in the selection of software applications and third party technology solutions that meet line of business needs and do not, at the same time, increase system integration challenges. This often comes about when the bank adopts a “best of breed” philosophy that places functionality above system integration. Early discussions with IT about system needs and identifying potential integration problems related to specific solutions early on is a must. We all have systems and platforms that do not play well with other systems and platforms. I’m not saying IT should always have the final say on system or vendor selections; I’m saying collaboration can help minimize integration issues that cause us to add manual processes to bridge the gaps.

120215cCreate a ‘Solutions’ Team

We all have bright and thoughtful people in our technology, operational, marketing, compliance and project management divisions. Let’s bring the best in process design and technology together and form a “Solutions” Team that streamlines old processes, attacks new challenges, and is available to every line of business. A key Solutions Team initiative could be to collaborate to develop a single process for evaluating both operational and sales process systems, solutions and improvements. This initiative would be extremely valuable for setting priorities and managing resources, as well as building a culture that values collaboration.

Life is Not Going to Get Easier for a While 

The FED recently announced close to zero short term rates for potentially three more years. We know margins are going to be very thin for an extended period of time. We know that misguided governmental agencies are going to keep attacking our sources of non-interest income. Collaboration to improve operational and sales processes and deepen customer relationships and streamline workflows may be one of the only weapons we have left to maximize earnings and minimize costs for a while. Let’s do it.
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Note: Bob the Builder is an animated character created by Keith Chapman and is the intellectual property of Chapman and HIT Entertainment Limited, UK.  My grandsons and I love this guy. The company thought about Bob the Banker but it didn’t test well.  Bob the Consultant didn’t do so well either for that matter.

 

Make Collaboration Strategic

If you answer “no” to one or more of the following questions, you may be in need of some COLLABORATION BREAKDOWN RECOVERY!

  • Are people in your institution willing to collaborate to challenge assumptions, question “sacred cows,” set aggressive goals and forge new paths? 
  • Does your institution have effective communication both laterally and vertically across business units? 
  • Does your current organizational strategy and design foster communication and collaboration?

An Organizational Assessment from Cornerstone Advisors can help your institution identify and understand internal factors impeding its ability to collaborate and execute effectively. Contact Cornerstone today to explore this opportunity and get on the road to recovery.

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