Banks need to simplify and automate workflow to address rising customer expectations and regulatory demands.

In my hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, many of the city’s main roads were dug from cow paths more than 200 years ago. In subsequent decades, more roads were added, little by little, often with short-term cost and expediency as the main concerns. For most of my life, traversing the city has required negotiating a confusing labyrinth of crisscrossed, sometimes haywire, streets and avenues. Historically speaking, getting from here to there in Boston has never been easy.

XTRAC Solutions Banking Business Processes

This phenomenon has a close equivalent in business, and the costs – in terms of both absolute dollars and increased risks – can be profound. Like Boston has done over the years, all of us in business are continually building out our infrastructure, piece by piece, to support an ever-evolving financial, regulatory and customer landscape. We adapt by keeping what works and improving (or replacing) what doesn’t, while trying to anticipate what’s coming next.

It’s an inherently messy process – and nowhere more so than in the area of automation technology, which by nature is expensive, time-intensive and usually difficult to undo once you’ve made your investments and put a system in place. There are times, no doubt, when many companies wish they could just start from scratch and build an infrastructure that is clean, cohesive and scalable.

The banking industry, in particular, is feeling this pain right now. The challenges that traditional, branch-based banks face today are in many ways a tribute to their commitment to provide a wide range of people with access to a vast range of financial services, and to cater their services accordingly: maintaining the in-person branch experience for those customers who prefer it while developing the digital channel for the (mostly younger) customers who use it exclusively.

And, in point of fact, most banks do a pretty amazing job of trying to be virtually all things to all people. But with ubiquity comes a cost. Within the banking industry today, the consequence of this product and channel diversity – and the fact that the components have been built up, little by little, over many years – is often an organization divided by silos and heavily reliant on manual and paper-based processing, where one part of the organization has trouble “talking to” another. As a result, many banks are challenged with creating an integrated, truly customer-centric experience, and are losing share to Web-based solutions that provide a simpler, more streamlined experience.

Adapting to “Customer 3.0”

No trend has impacted the financial services industry, and especially banks, as much or as quickly as the “drive to digital.” According to two recent reports from Accenture, 35% of banks’ market share in North America could be in play by 2020 as traditional banking gives way to new digital players.1

The members of the cohort that Accenture has dubbed “Customer 3.0” of the Internet era are technologically savvy and highly accustomed to conducting their lives online – and, crucially, on their own time. This is how Accenture defines the breed:

Customer 3.0 has evolved from a position of accepting the demands made by companies, to that of a power player reshaping the consumer landscape. They are a hyper-connected, highly informed, shared-experience generation… This generation no longer responds to mass marketing techniques. Instead they demand a highly personalized approach across all facets of business… Having evolved from the constraints of being told by businesses how, when and where they’ll interact and purchase, they now demand an altogether differentiated experience.2

For the banking sector, the implications are clear. In order to manage customer information effectively and provide a user-friendly experience, banks must eliminate both human and data silos by integrating data, systems and processes across product lines. Once data can be shared in real time across all customer touch points, banks will be able to provide more personalized service based on a complete customer profile. When this is achieved, all documents related to the process are stored and easily retrieved when needed – including for a regulatory examination. Further, with the end-to-end process visible and auditable, errors and bottlenecks are greatly reduced.

I’m sure many of you are thinking right now: that this is all easier said than done. But there are companies that specialize in workflow automation – XTRAC Solutions is one of them – that can help you automate and standardize your processes via a secure and easy-to-implement, cloud-based software system. I know the default thinking for many banks is to go it alone in the area of systems development, but these external tech providers can help you tackle this difficult problem with a ready-to-use solution. Further, by selecting a provider with a particular expertise in financial services, you can take advantage of proven ways to process work efficiently and effectively – for instance, some providers offer ready-to-use workflows for common activities such as new accounts or compliance audits. There is no question it is something that needs to be done, and the faster you do it the faster you begin to address the competitive challenges and rising customer expectations that are disrupting your businesses.

Getting started with workflow automation

XTRAC Solutions Banking Business Processes

The best way to get started is to take on one specific process – say, for example, the onboarding of a new customer, a process that usually involves multiple departments, people and systems. Look at your current process from beginning to end, rationalize and document it. Why is that step being done? What value does it bring to the overall process, both for your bank and your customer? How is it tracked and measured?

This rationalization is key, because automation doesn’t necessarily equal efficiency if you end up automating processes that are inefficient or broken to begin with. At XTRAC, we have proven tools and resources to work with you through this important step and make it not just painless, but enlightening.

So once you get your head around your current process, start to think about how it can be simplified or streamlined. Then automate the new and improved process. By doing this exercise for one process, you create a standard work template that can then be carried across other processes.

In reasonably short order, your solution partner can help you create and implement an effective workflow management system for your organization.

And, in the end…

Getting a handle on your workflow and document management has wide-ranging benefits, allowing you to:

  • Be more customer-centric: Standardization of processes enables the digital self-service model that more of your customers are looking for.   
  • Get control of, and manage, regulatory risk: With regulatory requirements changing and becoming more complex almost by the day, a transparent view of your systems and processes – at every step along the way – is vital.   
  • Improve operational effectiveness.   
  • Gain financial and administrative transparency.

Just a few years ago, Boston finished building a superhighway system – a vast project affectionately, and sometimes not so affectionately, known as the “Big Dig.” Cutting through the heart of the city, this system allows drivers to avoid many of those centuries-old roads and travel north and south much more efficiently than was previously possible.

While the Big Dig was a lengthy, expensive, gargantuan undertaking, your initiative doesn’t have to be. An end-to-end workflow management system can connect all of your roadways and feed them into your own gleaming information superhighway – and, with the help of a technology partner, can be achieved quickly and at relatively low cost. It is what you need to meet the needs and expectations of your customers today, and the flexibility it affords will help you continue to meet those needs tomorrow.


1 A Critical Balancing Act: U.S. Retail Banking in the Digital Era. Report published by Accenture, November 2013.

2 Say Hello to Customer 3.0. Report published by Accenture, November 2013. 

About Daniel R. Brownell

Daniel R. Brownell is the President and Chief Executive Officer of XTRAC Solutions, an independently operated company of Fidelity Investments®. The XTRAC® Workflow Suite is an advanced business processing platform that has run much of the operations and infrastructure at Fidelity for the past 20 years, including for clients of National Financial through the Business Process Manager (BPM) solution, and is available for implementation by other firms.

Prior to assuming his current position in August 2011, Mr. Brownell spent 25 years in a variety of technology leadership, process excellence and innovation roles at Fidelity. He has led large and globally diverse organizations and has served as chief information officer of various Fidelity businesses and functions.