Before discussing the bank's plans to exorcise paper, Washington Trust's Jim Brockett rips traditional attempts at paper avoidance to shreds.

"If you're trying simply to reduce paper by putting in technology to take pictures of documents, you haven't accomplished a whole lot," says the CIO of the $4 billion-asset Spokane, Wash.-based bank. "The real value in a document management solution is the ability to automate documents and an entire process from start to finish. That's where the lift is, as opposed to a model in which you take paper documents, create an image of them and allow people to access those images electronically."

To accomplish its goals, the bank has embarked on a project that turns the "print" function into a trigger that extracts data at entry and turns it into an electronic document that can inform loan processing, order fulfillment, account onboarding, treasury management and the overall trimming of manual and paper-based workflows. "In banking, the big benefit of document automation is in order fulfillment, new account opening, or opening treasury management services, or signing up existing customers for additional services," Brockett says. "We want to be able to do these things without requiring any paper at all."

The bank's prior forays into paper reduction included a few small one-off deployments that included check imaging and archiving. Its new initiative will license a suite of Wausau products, including Paperless Bank and Paperless Treasury, to link back end workflow document management with electronic document archival and retrieval.

In the case of a new account, for example, the bank's rep enters information into the bank's account onboarding program, then executes the "print" command.

Instead of going to the centralized print server at the bank's branch office, the data is located and extracted by the Wausau software and turned into an electronic document that can be viewed on a PC, tablet or laptop.

Once data is turned into electronic documents, these documents can be accessed throughout the entire processing chain, by different bank departments. Staff members at each processing or fulfillment stage are notified via an automated workflow message when it is their turn to access and work on the document.

"Order fulfillment is never done in one place, so there's back-office work that has to happen in one location before another part of the process can begin," Brockett says, adding that communication that drives order fulfillment has traditionally been handled by interoffice mail, but will now be accomplished electronically.

Brockett says the project has started in the treasury management division, because that is where fulfillment is the most paper-intensive; and will expand to consumer relationships over the next year or so. The replacement of paper and images with automated documents will also be gradual. "We're rolling this out in a phased approach," Brockett says. "At some point there may be a component where you have to create an image of a paper document, but that would be considered an interim step."

The bank reports initial returns have been positive — it's been able to reduce staff time by about 15 percent where automated documents have been deployed. Brockett also says electronic signatures are being integrated into the document management system to improve customer experience — clients sign a signature pad or a tablet at the branch, then click on electronic documents to execute that electronic signature, which becomes part of the document.