14 Best ECM Practices in Financial Services

By Richard Medina posted 03-24-2013 15:16


We recently benchmarked 6 major financial services firms (all Doculabs clients) and compared their maturity for managing documents. Here’s a summary of the results. It’s a small sample but it should be useful to you if you want a snapshot of what those firms are doing right now.

For the evaluation, we defined a number of criteria related to the three major stages of the content lifecycle: Capture (getting content and metadata into a system in digital form), Manage (securely storing content and managing its retention and disposition), and Access (providing users with the ability to locate and retrieve content). For each criterion within these categories, we scored each firm on a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 is poor, 3 is average, and 5 is excellent).

The Best Practices

Below I outline 14 best practices in financial services for the major stages of the content lifecycle. Each of the best practices is being successfully implemented by at least one of the evaluated firms – but no evaluated firm is implementing all of them yet.


  1. Distributed capture:  The best are capturing all (or almost all) inbound paper documents at the point of receipt in the relevant offices by enabling MFPs and training staff, minimizing data entry by office staff, and routing images to capture queues in centralized capture centers to ensure quality control and rapid ingestion into workflows. They expect to follow the same general methodology for mobile (smartphone and tablet) capture.
  2. Client document upload:  One firm uses a client portal that provides a secure upload utility for clients and their advisors to deliver their electronic documents to the bank or relevant unit. The bank who does this uses an awareness campaign to promote the capability to clients and drive adoption.
  3. Automated recognition:  Those who have succeeded with automated recognition did so by rolling it out in stages. They segmented their document types, starting with a few document types, tuning the recognition system, and adding more document types over time. The firms who appear to be on the right track for intelligent document recognition (IDR) are following the same careful incremental path that they followed for OCR.
  4. Moving to front-end capture: Several who succeeded implemented work-routing and dual monitors for users to enable transition from back-end scanning to front-end scanning for account opening processes in order to support virtual work teams, flexible staffing, and work re-distribution across sites (which succeed because of proper taxonomy and attention to user training). Today of course you wouldn't need dual monitors -- just big ones.


  1. Common repository and virtual folders:  Surprisingly few have thoroughly consolidated their repositories. But a few have migrated from multiple disparate repositories to a single platform supporting all product lines – a process which took multiple years but ultimately minimized duplicates, facilitated document re-use, and enabled references/links to a single document in multiple virtual folders. Many are in the process of consolidating around two platforms, “big ECM” and SharePoint, where SharePoint is used for non-regulated, non-client documents and collaboration. But a subset of these firms is considering a long term reduction from two platforms to one – SharePoint rather than the traditional ECM products.
  2. Indexing and taxonomy:  The best in class defined a common but limited taxonomy – a small “essential set” of fields that would be applied to all content, regardless of product line. This allowed consistent results when searching in different contexts from different interfaces and systems
  3. Dynamic document management:  Most have standardized on SharePoint. But the best deliver SharePoint in “packages” -- standardized sets of capabilities for different usage patterns. Most use SharePoint for internal document sharing and collaboration (non-client/non-account documents). The best have governance, usage guidelines, and an enterprise taxonomy in place.
  4. Workflow:  The leaders have migrated to a single workflow engine to manage and automate processes across multiple product lines, and redesigned their processes for the digital environment (rather than replicate paper-based processes).
  5. Electronic records management:  The best are using (not just planning to use or partially using) records management and storage management capabilities to enforce retention and disposition on electronic documents. A couple are using de-duplication to reduce document storage volumes by about 20%.
  6. Moving from paper to electronic records:  About half have done a good job in revising their policies to accept more electronic documents as records and minimize the need to retain paper. These firms have also implemented day-forward processes to classify images as records immediately upon ingestion, and destroy originals after a short period of time
  7. Backfile conversion:  A couple have analyzed the backfile paper documents in the field offices and identified those that could be destroyed. For those needing retention, the leading firms only converted the paper files that are “active” or have a high likelihood of being requested. The remainder that are neither destroyed nor converted are sent to offsite storage (e.g. Iron Mountain) for long term retention.


  1. Viewing:  The leaders have moved the entire organization to a thin portal/web-based user interface for repository access, reducing front-end development, customization, and maintenance efforts.
  2. Document access:  Users in the leading firms for this category access documents from a single “virtual vault,” with security to restrict them from seeing the existence of documents they are not authorized to see.
  3. Search:  About half have improved search results by consolidating documents into fewer repositories, indexing the content with more metadata fields, and building a full-text index of the content. None are pursuing a “universal enterprise search” strategy.

Note that in this assessment we didn’t dig into social business collaboration, cloud usage, and mobility. The ECM areas we were primarily concerned with are the basic blocking and tackling for ECM in financial services. We’re going to address the emerging areas next.

And I’d wager that there will be a strong correlation between success-versus-failure in the traditional ECM areas and the newer areas. If a firm hasn’t been able to pull off an effective imaging operation after ten to twenty years, it’s unlikely that they will have a best-in-class social business collaboration initiative. There are two reasons for this:

  • First, the specific technologies are just a fraction of what you need in place in order to have a successful ECM or social enterprise program, and the firm's programmatic effectiveness in one area like ECM usually strongly predicts how they'll do in related emerging areas.
  • Second, many of the most effective mobile-and-social initiatives start out by first enhancing already successful ECM deployments. I explain how they do this here.

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