by Rebecca Lynch

Case Study: Wells Fargo Succeeds with Paperless System

Feb 15, 20019 mins
CRM Systems

The Company: Wells Fargo & Co.

Founded 1852 Assets $234 billion

Headquarters San Francisco Employees 104,000


“Night and day.” That’s how William Moffitt describes the change in his day-to-day job after his company went from paper- intensive to virtually paperless. As a customer service manager for Wells Fargo Education Financial Services (EFS) in Sioux Falls, S.D., Moffitt and his staff serve student loan applicants (from parents of kindergartners to postgraduate students) and school financial aid officers from around the country. Before 1998, when EFS installed a sophisticated workflow and imaging system, Moffitt says he spent “literally, hours every day” just looking for customer files, which might have been sit-

ting on a desk in another department or tucked away in a file room. Worse, they might have disappeared completely into the world Moffitt cringes to recall: the “we-must-have-lost-it-somewhere” place.

Today, that paper glut traditionally associated with student loans is gone, and customer service reps can access customers’ information with a mere mouse click. “After we installed the system, I never had to hunt for files again,” Moffitt says. “Today, I have all the information I need on my desktop.” Customer service reps are no longer wearing out the soles of their shoes, and, more important, loan sales are way up. In 1994, EFS originated approximately $800 million worth of student loans. In 2000, that number jumped to $2.1 billion, making Wells Fargo the leading provider of education finance in the country.

Yet the story doesn’t end with imaging and workflow. Today, customers can get speedy service whether they contact Wells Fargo by phone or visit its website. And now they can get loans approved online in a matter of minutes. Although this level of service has helped make the student customer segment one of the five core business lines in Wells Fargo, the increase in loan sales may be the start of something even bigger: Impressed loan customers aren’t only telling their friends, they’re purchasing other Wells Fargo products. The financial services corporation’s evolving CRM game plan?to attract new customers, retain them and provide everything their financial hearts could desire?is beginning to bear fruit.

Banishing Paper

In 1994, applying for a student loan at any financial institution was generally a frustrating experience that required weeks of waiting (and many chances for files to go MIA). EFS saw an opportunity to make fast, efficient service a competitive advantage by employing state-of-the-art technology that would virtually eliminate paper?and errors?from the loan approval process. “We weren’t losing business back in 1994,” says Paul Dockry, senior vice president and director of loan servicing operations at EFS. “But we knew by enhancing the level of our service and our ability to market our service we’d give customers a reason to come to Wells Fargo?and stay.” Rather than sell loans before the customer paid them off, EFS decided to retain loans for their life span to build better customer relationships as well as a long-term revenue stream. And instead of using third parties to originate and service those loans, EFS decided to handle them itself.

When it brought the task of loan servicing in-house, EFS implemented electronic capture software for document retention from Wang (now Eastman Software). In early 1998, EFS began working with Paragon Systems to automate its business processes through a full-scale image and workflow solution. “We started from ground zero,” says Dockry. “We decided to do something different.” It chose Eastman’s Enterprise Workflow and Imaging System software for several reasons. For one, existing files of current customers could easily be converted to the new system. In addition, Eastman’s push/pull system?work items in a queue are pushed to the customer service representative’s desktop and when each item is complete, another appears?was unique at the time. Finally, the system could accommodate the growing customer base EFS was confident it would achieve by effectively and efficiently servicing loans itself.

EFS began by implementing imaging and within three years added the workflow component. Now, information is routed and processed within 24 hours of receipt; in some cases loans can be approved and disbursed in minutes. Without a significant increase in staff, Wells Fargo processes 70,000 documents per month?an increase of more than 50 percent from last year?and Dockry expects the volume of documents processed to grow another 25 percent to 40 percent next year. According to Dockry, in the old environment, 10 people would have had to grow to 50 to handle the workload. Because it installed an imaging and workflow system, he says, EFS added only a handful of new employees to help manage the growth during the past three years.

Nuts and Bolts

So how does EFS’s near-paperless loan servicing work? High-volume scanners scan all hard-copy documentation coming into the mailroom within two hours of their arrival. The scanned documents are then tied to the student/parent’s account and moved into workflow queues for processing. Online loan applications submitted through Wells Fargo’s website and fax machines converge with the imaged documents to join the queue. A team member who reviews documents flags any errors?such as incomplete applications?and, if necessary, an EFS employee calls the borrower for clarification. At that point, approval is granted pending receipt of the original signed master promissory note. “Approval takes minutes and hours,” says Dockry, “not days or weeks.” For loan applications transmitted electronically by schools, a hard copy of a partially completed promissory note is generated and sent to the borrower for signing (eventually EFS plans to enable electronic signatures so that borrowers will be able to sign instantly online). Once the signed copy is returned, the document moves to a review queue in workflow and the loan is flagged as ready to disburse.

Online applications go through the system even faster. Existing customers with college loans who need graduate school funding, for example, can be approved in minutes. “It used to be a three-week delivery process at best,” says Dockry. “We’re now within minutes of approval.” For repeat borrowers, as long as EFS has a signature on file, approval and disbursement can occur on the same day.

“There’s no need for paper shuffling anymore,” says Bryan Roark, vice president and manager of sales and services. “Before there were all these potential points of failure?papers were lost, files were gone. Now, we’re more effective because we are focused on answering calls, not tracking down documents.” Although he can’t specify how many files were lost during the loan-processing Stone Age, Roark says these days his department answers 15 percent to 20 percent more calls per day. And more important, customers are happy: In a 2000 survey, 75 percent of student loan borrowers said they would recommend Wells Fargo to a friend. And 90 percent of student loan officers?an influential group of secondary customers who funnel a great deal of business to Wells Fargo?said they had a high level of satisfaction with the bank’s loan products and processes. Roark attributes the bank’s success directly to imaging, which virtually eliminated embarrassing problems. “No hands touch these documents except those in the mailroom. The documents can’t get lost on desks or in file rooms.” And because the system works in real-time instead of relying on batch processing, imaged information is available immediately.

That’s good news for the school loan officers who advise students where to apply for loans. When Lori Shaffer goes to work helping students obtain education loans, she needs answers?fast. Shaffer is the assistant director of financial aid system development for Apollo Group, the parent company of the University of Phoenix, a nontraditional school that targets working professionals in pursuit of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. With students moving through the system on individual schedules, the school can’t always wait weeks for a bank to approve financing. Because EFS can approve and disburse loans quickly, it’s on Shaffer’s short list of preferred lenders. She works with more than 200 lending institutions, yet says EFS has made her a true fan because its customer service is virtually glitch-free. And in some cases, loan approval can take mere minutes. “Life is easier when you don’t have to worry about the loan process,” says Shaffer.

From Streamlining to the Great Eight

Reengineering the messy, manual process not only streamlined EFS’s loan business, it was the first step of many toward furthering the bank’s CRM strategy.

EFS believed if it could offer students quick approvals and efficient, accurate service throughout the life of loans, it could lure them further into Wells Fargo-land. “The majority of customers are traditional students at the front end of life,” says Dockry. “The thought was if they have a good experience with their lending institution, they’d stay.” In other words, student loan customers will one day consider the bank for other big-ticket items such as mortgages, car loans and credit cards. The investment in cultivating relationships with students is beginning to pay off. Last year, the number of loan customers who availed themselves of other products offered by the bank jumped from 4 percent to more than 8 percent. “We’re seeing a dramatic increase in people signing up for other products,” says Dave Hawn, senior vice president of IT. He attributes part of that increase to the imaging and workflow system.

Wells Fargo’s website is also contributing to the increase in multiproduct customers. Since launching the Wells Fargo online banking services for the EFS division last fall, Dockry says that some 2,200 new customers have signed up for the service each week, giving Wells Fargo an opportunity to offer them additional products and services. And because Wells Fargo has one of the largest populations of Internet banking customers in the nation, it uses the website to help sell student loans. “One of Wells Fargo’s top 10 strategic initiatives is to cross sell and offer valued financial services products to our customers,” says Dockry, referring to what’s known around Wells Fargo as “going for the great eight.” With the help of a data warehouse and collaboration among Wells Fargo divisions, the goal is to sell each customer eight other products?mortgages, credit cards and so on?making Wells Fargo a one-stop financial services organization for all its customers’ needs.

Wells Fargo strives to make it easy for customers to do more business with the bank. Education finance customers can use the Wells Fargo website to access loan information, transfer funds, check their savings account balance and even send e-mails to the bank. (At this point, Dockry says, Citibank is the only other financial institution to offer all of those services online.) “We’re not sticking with the old standard of ’Here’s what we provide,’” says Dockry. “We continue to look at the big process of what customers want.”