Every year I get into a discussion with firms that are seeking to forge into the paperless arena when it comes to operations processing, reporting and client files. From a high level view, firm principals understand the advantages of doing away with paper handling and storage, but frequently get tripped up by the costs of making the conversion.
In every scenario where I have moved an office off of paper and onto a document management system and the new processes that come with it – they have seen both short term productivity impacts and longer term cost reduction. Frequently I have seen the return on investment of the initial capital spent in less than twelve months.
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Defining what “going paperless” means is helpful. In this case, consider it
Implementing a document management system is at the core of going paperless. This includes a database that indexes and tracks document and other files (thus making them searchable). There are several in the financial services space, including
- EMC Documentum
These types of systems would replace any manual scanning and file storage you may be doing now. The document management system will not only assist you in meeting the regulatory requirements around imaging and electronic records storage but also enables you to upgrade your business continuity and disaster recovery by having a certified third-party as a backup.
More importantly, document management is about more than documents you scan – but also about indexing and organizing all of your electronic records. This centralizes search and retrieval, reducing duplicate files and any last minute wild goose chases for missing spreadsheets.
Evolving Your Processes
Always one of the fear factors for staff is any substantive change in procedures for running your day to day services. In going paperless, it frequently only requires a tuning of your processes. For example, modifying your mail handling to scan all incoming mail (other than junk and advertisements) and then have all staff (including the principal) review this mail electronically via the document management system. This alone cuts time spent juggling, losing, filing and retrieving paper.
In one organization I have worked with they determined a metric just for handling paper at each staff member’s desk showing they saved 30 minutes per person per day. For an office with three staff this equates to 90 minutes per day or 360 hours per year (1.5 hours per day times 240 market days). These can represent a savings of at minimum $3,600 annually. That productivity is redirected toward more efficient processing and customer service.
Moreover, the firm saw a 50% reduction in copier/printer paper ordering as well as a 30% drop in overnight mail costs.
Similar to paper juggling is filling out forms. Any opportunity you have to automate at least a portion of your form filling will cut the time spent on this exercise. Most forms vendors agree you can cut a fifteen minute handwritten form to 2-3 minutes using a form filling application. Examples here are iPipeline, Laser App and Quik. These tools frequently can connect to other systems you use to populate client information, such as from a CRM application or other client database. This too can reduce any possible mistakes based on illegibility of forms.
Where permissible, print only the pages requiring wet signatures and then scan and submit electronically. Some form filling vendors may also integrate directly with a document management solution, making this process even more streamlined.
This is the most common area where many offices start and has some of the biggest impact on reducing printing and paper costs. Get them electronically from your provider(s) and deliver them electronically.
Coordinate with your custodian(s) to determine which forms per registration type can be submitted electronically versus printing, faxing and/or mailing. Some custodians offer straight through processing (STP), which can often mean submitting the documents directly from your document management system. This is an area that can show real relief in overnight mail fees.
Look for opportunities to both send and receive faxes virtually using your email software and/or a web-based dashboard. Incoming and outgoing faxes can then be delivered not only to your users but also into the document management system for indexing and storage. Common companies in this space include eFax, MyFax and MaxEmail. The costs of the virtual fax servers versus maintaining physical machines, toner packs and paper is obvious.
Preparing for ROI
One thing is certain, if you establish a plan for going paperless that encompasses these broad areas, you will find significant opportunities to reduce hard costs in postage, paper, toner, ink and copier expenses. These will be measurable real dollars you can align against your paperless investment.
From a human capital and productivity perspective, you can redirect hours of staff member time each day and week away from juggling paper, running back and forth from desk to filing cabinets and trips to the copier. These may be soft costs, but they are measurable, and those hours freed up to focus on operational efficiency and customer service will also reap rewards.