System Streamlines Wholesale Customer Service

First National Bank of Chicago is expanding its use of image processing to improve customer service in its wholesale bank.

The bank is using an imaging system that runs on local area networks to simplify the location and verification of some 200,000 corporate documents on file.

About 18 representatives sitting in two buildings linked on a network, routinely use a personal computer to find images of corporate rules to answer such questions as which corporate officers are authorized to sign checks.

Hard to Track Down

Banks typically take days to answer these questions as bank employees sift through massive paper files that may be in various locations, even distant warehouses.

A handful of banks are in the early stages of using low-speed document imaging to reduce the response time for customer service inquiries in areas such as mortgage or auto lending.

The First Chicago Corp. unit is among the first to use imaging to help tie together service areas that have previously worked along strict product lines into one area so that a customer with multiple accounts can talk to a single representative.

First Chicago plans to consolidate its customers service by the end of the summer, so representatives, who are now dedicated to specific product lines, such as lockbox or check services, can answer questions about any of the bank's corporate services.

The bank is currently retraining its representatives. Any of them will be able to use the imaging system at one of the 32 personal computers that are linked to the imaging network.

The system for storing corporate documents is one of several imaging projects at First Chicago. Service reps in the loan processing and in credit card areas use imaging systems to pull up applications and letters while the customer waits.

On the retail side, last month First Chicago began to offer image statements to retail customers. And the bank is investigating the use of imaging to verify check signatures for personal and corporate accounts.

Thus far, the bank has invested 500,000 in imaging to handle corporate documents. it is using a relatively new technology, in which data can be accessed anywhere on a network.

This so-called client/server architecture enables each system on the network -- whether it is mainframe, server, or personal computer -- to do the task most appropriate to it.

In its original projections, First Chicago expected an 18% to 20% return on investment after full implementation, said Gamil Sakla, an assistant vice president. Mr. Sakla said that it was not yet clear the bank was hitting its target, but that it has a "good return on investment. We are doing more work without increasing staff."

The imaging system, which has been in production for several months, has cut the time required to handle an inquiry in half, said Constance Brown, an assistant vice president in customer service.

One reason is that the representatives work in two separate buildings, and in the past had to walk another building to find files, or to send responses by messenger to the appropriate sales rep. Now all the representatives though physically dispersed, are on a single network.

Response Time Slashed

Typically, it has taken an average of two to five days to respond to an inquiry regarding corporate documents. Now responses range from immediate to a few days.

Service reps cannot respond immediately to all questions, Ms. Brown said, because of the volume of work and their other job responsibilities. They set up new business accounts and make changes to existing accounts. Each service reps handles about five calls regarding corporate documents per week.

Software from Image Business Systems Corp., in New York, stored on an International Business Machines Corp. Risc/6000 workstation, handles the capture, storage, and routing of documents.

Because the system is on a local area network, it easily can be expanded to include other locations or other users, said Jay N. Goldberg, president of Image Business Systems.

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