March 18, 2013

While many banks are looking to streamline operations and cut down on administrative work to make their employees more efficient, Royal Bank of Canada has accomplished both of those goals within their retirement investment operations through e-signatures.

The bank’s mobile sales agents that are responsible for selling retirement and investment services outside the branch had been using paper documents to execute their transactions with customers.

Handling all of those documents and taking them back and forth between the branch and the customer led to a high rate of errors in those documents and more work for the sales agents. “It was an issue of inefficiency. It would often take many visits to get a customer transaction completed. It led to too much duplication of effort and more administrative work in the transaction,” James McGuire, Royal Bank of Canada’s VP of digital strategy and customer experience, relates.

The bank estimated that it was losing more than 80,000 man hours each year in chasing documents and correcting errors such as missing signatures. The bank tried a number of ways to address the issue, McGuire says. The bank originally had the agents mail their paperwork to a central location where it was scanned into an e-depository. But this process resulted in confusion sometimes between the agents and the personnel working the depository regarding what documents had been received. The bank then deployed scanners at its branches so the agents could scan the documents into the e-depository themselves. This didn’t fully address the issue however, as the agents would still have to go back to the customer if a signature or date was missing from a document, McGuire recalls.

The bank settled on an e-signatures solution from Silanis, an e-signatures solutions provider, that allowed their agents to use digital documents that a customer could sign directly on the agent’s tablet device. “There’s a lot of rigor in terms of how the agents can go through the process with the clients… They can’t go to the next step in the signing process without completing all the previous steps. It helped us standardize the signing process,” says McGuire.

All of the digital forms are then submitted through email to the banks enterprise content management system for storage, allowing the bank to digitally track each document for compliance purposes. The planner can mail printed copies of the documents to the customer or send digital copies through email or the bank’s online banking portal, McGuire explains.

RBC first piloted the solution last year with its mobile retirement planners in the Toronto area. The pilot phase allowed the bank to work on some minor issues such as reconfiguring the digital documents for a tablet’s screen. The bank asked investment customers during the pilot phase how interested they’d be in using the e-signatures solution again, and 80% of them said they’d like to do so, according to McGuire. “Customers are already used to using e-signatures in retailers at the point of sale,” he explains.

The popularity of the product led to a full-launch across Canada by RBC in mid-December, a busy season for its retirement planners. The planners have been much quicker to adopt the solution than the bank originally anticipated, McGuire reports. “We thought it would take up to a year for 30% of the sales team to adopt [the solution]. We hit 30% in a couple of weeks,” he recalls.

The solution has cut the average number of visits for each investment transaction to be completed from three to one, the bank reports, and document error rates have dropped by 75%. The bank estimates that the solution will save it about $8 million in administrative costs annually.

Now RBC is planning to introduce the e-signatures solution to other parts of its operations. The retirement planning operations was probably not the best area to start with the solution because of the number of documents involved in such transactions, McGuire explains. Building out the infrastructure for the solution and the workflows for the different types of transactions was the biggest challenge to the product’s launch, he says.

But now it will be much easier to bring the solution to other parts of the bank’s operations such as in branch retail transactions. The bank is already piloting the solution in some of its branches and plans to roll out the solution to its full branch network later this year, McGuire reports. And the bank is also looking into capturing e-signatures remotely for its online account opening process, he adds. “The complexity in the investment documents and process gives us the confidence in doing e-signatures in other areas. This project gave it integrity in terms of being an enterprise-wide solution,” McGuire says.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Camhi is a graduate of the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism, where he focused on international reporting and interned at the Hindustan Times in Delhi, ...