Case Study: Washington Trust Bank
Founded in 1902, Washington Trust Bank (WA Trust) is the oldest and largest privately held bank in the Pacific Northwest. Headquartered in Spokane, Washington, the bank provides relationship-based commercial banking, private banking, trust administration and investment management services through more than 40 financial centers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
WA Trust offers an integrated suite of online commercial services to regional companies, its most important customer base. In November 2013, the bank transitioned its legacy cash management system, which it had developed and customized over a period of 20 years, to a more modern solution. However, the transition was complex — despite months of planning and regular communications with clients prior to the transition, WA Trust experienced an unprecedented amount of customer calls and reported issues after the new system went live.
The conversion touched every commercial customer and process, particularly in the area of ACH (automated clearing house) transactions, which companies rely on to fulfill payroll to employees and payments to vendors. With a significant issue backlog, the bank’s internal resources were tasked well beyond normal working hours and responsibilities.
During the initial rush to assist customers through the transition, the bank realized it needed a mechanism to identify and prioritize gaps in the initial customer interactions, define usability issues, and most importantly, to provide a sense of security and credibility to its customers. Time was the most immediate factor, with customers demanding help on the first day the system went live, not understanding what was taking place or how to use the new platform. Although many customers ignored the bank’s pre-communications regarding the new system, WA Trust took responsibility to resolve the problems.
Mike Shellenberger, a Senior Vice President of Washington Trust, noted, “The confidence our customers had in us was eroded pretty quickly. A significant number of our key middle-market commercial customers were having issues. The backlog of issues was insurmountable, and we were learning as the customers were learning.”
The transition also highlighted a classic change-management issue: In spite of many hours of pre-conversion training, long-tenured bank employees who were comfortable with running the old system were significantly challenged by the change, requiring the bank to revisit its approach to internal processes.
WA Trust found itself in unfamiliar territory. Seeking a consulting company with deep experience in complex transitions, the bank turned to AIM Consulting.
Following the implementation of the new system, AIM Consulting provided a fast and effective business analysis solution for WA Trust. AIM’s goal was to help identify the remaining transition issues and enhance the bank’s communication channels to prevent similar issues in the future.
During the project, AIM business analysts:
- Met with key people at the WA Trust head office in Spokane, gaining a strong understanding of the platform, known issues, and customer expectations and workflows.
- Performed a gap analysis to identify, categorize, and document patterns and processes to improve repeatable training as well as issue discovery/resolution.
- Partnered with bank personnel to meet directly with customers to understand issues and help document solutions for future use.
- Held a series of workshops to document and recommend improvement to customer-service processes.
Following a rapid and thorough analysis, AIM developed an exhaustive list of customer and internal issues. As part of this effort, AIM visited key customer locations with a WA Trust commercial client services representative to work through the most pressing concerns together. This process drew highly positive customer feedback.
Following the consolidation of the issues, AIM facilitated sessions with key stakeholders at the bank to establish priorities and focus in on the most important platform issues. These issues were then brought to the software vendor’s attention at a three-day onsite visit with programmers, analysts and project managers from both sides.
A key element of the gap analysis was a thorough review of the bank’s internal processes. WA Trust’s operations staff, personal services group, and front-line employees are located in different offices spread throughout the Pacific Northwest. As both new and existing customers are touched by each entity, AIM documented processes across all groups for each customer type, facilitated improvement workshops, and provided recommendations to improve processes and communications.
By providing a fresh set of eyes and objectivity to the online-banking transition project, AIM helped the bank to prioritize issues and strengthen relationships with its most important customer base. Customers have reported very high satisfaction with the bank’s willingness to invest in a process to listen to them and help solve their issues.
The gap analysis led to numerous rapid fixes to common issues, which were documented and communicated throughout WA Trust. In addition, the technology vendor delivered fixes for the top 20 reported platform issues within three months of the gap analysis.
Mike Shellenberger said, “The managing director of the new cash management platform came out to visit. He looked at the gap analysis that we collectively produced and said the document was the most well thought out and detailed document that he had ever seen.”
Internal processes and communication have received a tremendous spark from AIM’s expertise in business process analysis. One of AIM’s final recommendations to the bank was to develop a custom steering committee for large projects, which was quickly implemented. Documents have been redesigned for employees regarding new communication and training processes. The new communication channels opened as part of AIM’s analysis and process reform have reduced the “silo” effect and engendered new levels of trust between the bank’s regional offices.
WA Trust plans to transition its online consumer banking platform to the same platform in late 2014, and the work provided by AIM will ensure a smooth transition. WA Trust upper management made it mandatory that all bank employees transition to the platform by June 2 to gain familiarity with the product, share feedback, and head off potential issues before they occur. As many of the bank’s commercial customers are also users of its consumer online platform, these measures help strengthen the confidence level across the entire customer base.