Many financial institutions fail to get the most out of technology and reengineering efforts due to inadequate management of operations and existing resources, a consulting firm's studies indicate.

The firm, Marietta, Ga.-based BenchMark 2000, specializes in designing and conducting benchmark studies for the financial industry.

Benchmarking is becoming an increasingly popular endeavor in the consolidation-happy banking industry because banks often have trouble setting realistic performance goals after acquisitions that significantly change their asset size.

Such studies enable banks to compare their performance against that of similarl-size financial institutions in such areas as mortgage origination and consumer lending. They also examine processes and organizational structures to help banks improve efficiency.

Gary Bernard, senior vice president of retail lending at $9 billion- asset Bank One, Arizona, said a consumer lending study in which the Banc One Corp. unit participated "gave us an objective view of how we stack up against other bank operations."

The workflow diagrams were especially helpful in pinpointing redundancies in processes, he added.

BenchMark 2000, which did the research to which Mr. Bernard referred, gives study participants written findings and workflow diagrams that present step-by-step visualizations of lending processes. These enable banks to locate inefficiencies while identifying strengths.

Although each bank's operations are compared with those of other study participants, they are identified in code to avoid revealing which bank generated a specific set of performance data. The banks are told, however, the names of other institutions taking part.

Since it was founded two years ago, BenchMark 2000 has done studies in which more than half the top 25 U.S. banks have participated. Clients include SunTrust Banks Inc., as well as Bank One, Arizona.

James McGarvey, president and founder of BenchMark 2000, is also a principal of McGarvey-Ross Consulting, which has done financial industry consulting on process reengineering and operations consolidation since 1980.

Mr. McGarvey said benchmark studies show that some of the best- performing banks have the least technology.

For example, one of the fastest loan processors BenchMark 2000 has analyzed uses a great deal of automation to process loans, but the technology has not paid off - the bank closes on only about 19% of its applications.

This highlights the importance of making sure that technology is guiding an institution toward its business goals.

It also shows that some banks need to leverage current resources fully before turning to new technology. Costs can often be driven down with good management, Mr. McGarvey said.

BenchMark 2000 does a number of studies each year, with eight to 16 banks in each study. The resulting analysis divides the lending process into core segments that are evaluated and compared with those of other participants.

A team of three experienced bank consultants interviews bank managers, observes employees, and studies technologies and the allocation of employees in core areas. All information is collected during a one-week, on-site analysis.

These studies generally take 90 days to complete and cost $36,000.

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