Gabriel Rizk, head of general services for Banque Libano-Francaise in Beirut, was never satisfied with how his bank kept track of its large network of those overlooked, humble tools of the banking trade: desks, filing cabinets and computer terminals.
What irked Rizk was not only how cumbersome the traditional bar-code inventory management system had become, but how much it cost his $10.2 billion-asset bank to arrive at a consistently accurate accounting of the 500-plus hard assets in each of its 46 branches.
Along came ASAP Systems, a high-tech asset and inventory tracking firm based in San Jose, Calif., with a solution to Rizk's nagging problem. ASAP Systems' latest inventory-tracking software uses a radio frequency identification-enabled device, allowing bank personnel to walk into any work area and scan all of its assets in a fraction of the time consumed by the old bar-code method.
Plenty of U.S. banks have been using RFID-enabled systems for years to track information technology inventory like laptops and printers, but the tech folks at several banking trade groups say they are unaware of any that are applying this same technique to assets as unsophisticated as an office chair.
Rizk hadn't considered the idea before either. But after just one demonstration of ASAP Systems' RFID-powered system, Rizk was so impressed that "we ended up implementing it in just nine months," he says.
"It was fantastic to be able to do it that fast and then even better to do the physical inventory in one day, without disturbing either employees or customers, so we experienced zero loss of productivity."
Elie Touma, ASAP Systems' president and CEO, was born in Lebanon and has been at the helm of ASAP Systems for the last decade. He says that after the firm's success with three Lebanese banks, it has begun to pitch RFID to American banks.
"Our feeling was that once we started our RFID banking program in Lebanon, we wanted to perfect the process before we took it globally," says Touma.
He says that a strength of ASAP Systems' inventory apparatus is that it can be customized to any client's needs. For instance, says Touma, "a bank president might want to carefully track depreciation of certain fixed assets, while a warehouse official is more interested in how many company cell phones have been issued to various employees."
Most banks, including the 85-year old Banque Libano-Francaise, have tracked their bulk inventory items (say, boxes of deposit slips) by using the same bar-code system you might find on items in any store. But bar codes aren't ideal for tracking inventory such as computer terminals, partly because scanning them means intruding into the work space and office time of nearly every employee.
Human error is another issue. "We had the same fixed assets in every one of our branches and we would put those bar-code stickers on them, but the resulting audit always missed several items," says Rizk. "It was like a jungle out there, trying to keep track of our fixed assets."
What Banque Libano-Francaise happily discovered was that ASAP Systems' RFID-driven method eliminated the discrepancies that arose in the old bar-code system. And monitoring for possibly lost or stolen items became almost foolproof.
Banque Libano-Francaise's RFID experience started with the affixing of 35,000 regular RFID tags, along with 5,000 metal tags, to the bank's hard assets.
Each tag contains a computer chip, activated by radio waves emitted by a hand-held scanner. The wave-activated chip then beams back all pertinent data about its object to the scanner.
In addition, RFID allows for the items in a particular work space to be inventoried with one wave of the hand-held scanner over the general area, so employees don't even have to get up from their desks during the process.
The new system, Rizk says, can assess a branch's inventory in one-tenth the time of the old approach, with 30 percent less manpower necessary to complete the job.
ASAP Systems boasts a 70 percent lowering of fixed-asset losses and thefts thanks to an inventory accuracy rate of 95 percent. But the firm says its RFID system is only cost effective for banks with more than five branches or more than 3,000 fixed assets to scan.
For all the benefits of having a new, RFID-powered inventory tracking system, Banque Libano-Francaise paid around $40,000, counting the cost of four Motorola tag scanners, which were priced at $4,500 each.
"Peanuts," Rizk exclaims.
"You can easily say that from every standpoint, we are extremely satisfied with this solution."