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Whether you are finalizing your strategic plans and budgets (or re-evaluating them), thinking through solutions to the industry’s on-going challenges can have even the most seasoned management team shaking their heads. In today’s environment, there are many circumstances beyond your control – unsettled economic conditions, interest rate pressure, regulatory and compliance expectations, competition from familiar and nontraditional sources, the costs of technology and cyber security, as well as ever-changing service expectations from your account holders. But even in this uncertain atmosphere, there are plenty of areas you can control in order to maintain long-term viability.

Following are four steps that I counsel clients to take to overcome what they can’t control by improving their existing processes and procedures to achieve improved service levels and better overall results:

1. Take a thorough look at your current operations.
Before you can begin making improvements, you need to identify where any efficiency gaps exist within your bank or credit union. This will help you to determine if you are using your assets effectively, or whether unchecked expenses and ineffective systems are having a negative impact on overall performance and revenue.

A formal study of your operations, conducted by a professional consultant, will add objectivity for optimal outcomes. For best results, the study should involve your leadership team, as well as key employees and line staff, and cover every facet of your institution. You’ll not only gain a thorough analysis of your strengths and weaknesses, but a comprehensive review of the following areas:

Organizational structure
Does your organizational chart accurately reflect how every department works within your operational framework? Is there a reporting structure at the department head level that will allow for necessary changes? Is your “Span of Control” such that there is too much concentration with one individual, potentially impeding progress or suppressing positive ideas?

Department workflow
How is the workload distributed among staff? Is there too much or too little work for employees? Are there areas where you can eliminate work duplication and possibly find cost savings, while improving efficiencies?

Reporting procedures
Do all current operational reports have a purpose? How are they prepared? Are they being transferred from one format to another simply for format? Who receives them and why? Are they being printed; only to be placed in a shred box after daily viewing? How are they stored and secured? Are some existing reports unnecessary or could they be replaced with more effective documents?

Branch profitability
What is your return on investment of existing branch locations? Are they conveniently located within your service area? Are traffic numbers consistent? Are there technologies that could be applied to improve the efficiency and profitability of each branch?

As you implement new technology, is it possible to downsize or close some facilities? Could certain locations be replaced by an Intelligent ATM machine without the potential loss of account holders? Do you have branch accounting capabilities that can help you determine how each branch is affecting the bottom line?

Products and services
Are existing products and services meeting your account holders’ needs? Are you planning ahead to address changing service preferences? Do you have robust processes and technology resources in place to support both existing and potential new products and services?

With a formal operational study, you’ll be able to answer many of the above questions and obtain many other practical recommendations. These include: staffing and salary administration reports and comparisons; incentive program reviews; income and expense analyses; operational enhancements for consolidations and mergers; best practices suggestions and revenue-planning programs.

2. Strengthen your financial position.
Another step in the overall improvement process is to identify opportunities for tracking your success and maintaining an advantage over your competitors. While your securities portfolio generates net interest income, overall it has very little impact on non-interest income and non-interest expense.

Examining both sides of your balance sheet – total assets minus securities – will give you a more accurate tracking of the rise and fall in net operating costs and efficiencies for your bank or credit union. You will be able to more clearly see where changes may be needed – ranging from workflows for key operations and technology utilization to staffing and salary administration. For many clients I work with, reviewing this information helps them see the value behind making adjustments to improve their performance.

For instance, re-evaluating your overdraft program in most cases will provide a substantial boost to your bottom line.  Plus, a well-established program can offer greater value by providing assistance to account holders who find themselves in a short-term financial bind. What’s more, re-evaluating processes and procedures can ensure the program is up-to-date with all regulatory expectations and best practices. This is the best way to ensure that you are providing a compliant financial solution for account holders and recapturing lost revenue for your financial institution.

3. Sow the seeds for growth.
Once your basic foundation is solid, it’s time to customize your current systems and implement the services and technology needed to stay competitive in today’s financial services market.

For example, while it is more common to see the use of mobile apps to enable account holders to conduct financial business online, there are instances where visiting a branch location for service is still a strong need. Have you considered streamlining basic in-branch depository functions with image-enabled ATMs and other self-service technology? Doing so can provide more convenience for account holders and free up time for staff to focus on addressing more personalized questions and advice. There are likely multiple ways to improve processes that will create stronger growth for the future.

4. Establish a sales and service culture.
An effective sales effort requires employees to have a thorough understanding of the products and services you offer. To promote this type of environment, a focus on combining employee knowledge and experience with the perceived need of your account holders is needed.

Here are just a few things you should consider:

Maintain a strong training protocol.
A vibrant sales and culture includes sufficient educational resources, qualified trainers, a satisfactory setting and adequate training time for all employees. And keep in mind that different training approaches and scheduling may be necessary for your specific employee group.

Provide the proper support.
A successful sales and service culture requires the on-going support of basic day-to-day operations. If your front-line representatives tell you they are too overwhelmed with non-account holder contact work to focus on increasing sales, it may be necessary to move those operational tasks from the desks of sales and service representatives into the back office. After all, the primary focus of your sales staff should be providing services to account holders who have taken the time to come into your branches.

The bottom line is you must look for the silver lining
While uncertainties and uncontrollable conditions exist in today’s environment, it’s great to know that there are possible silver linings waiting in your bank. Obtaining an objective view of how your institution runs can provide an in-depth understanding of where its performance can be optimized and set the process in motion for achieving ever-greater results.

If your lacking the internal infrastructure to handle these assessments or manage the restructuring and implementation process, consider contacting a third-party consulting firm that specializes in addressing your needs. The process will help you find ways to improve the effectiveness of your core systems, strengthen account holder service and enhance your profitability and performance for the long-term.


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