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Deena Amato-McCoy
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Future Perfect

Provident Bank's new branch platform utilizes AI technology to smooth the transaction process.

Provident Bank's new branch platform utilizes AI technology to smooth the transaction process

Officials at Provident Bank knew it was only a matter of time before they would have to replace the DOS-based platform that supported branch transactions. But pressure intensified when Provident's existing vendor discontinued the product.

"We had to replace our existing application due to its obsolescence," said Jay Fitzhugh, senior vice president of strategic direction at Baltimore-based Provident Bank. "When our vendor announced they would no longer support their DOS-based platform product, a new system became almost a forced decision."

Provident determined that the new system would have to support high account growth, possess the artificial intelligence that the DOS product lacked, and streamline transactions to reduce errors. Following its year-long search, Provident chose the open architecture Encore! Platform solution from Harland Financial Solutions, Atlanta.

Provident was comfortable with the Encore solution, having installed Harland's Encore! Teller application in 1997, following its acquisition of First Citizens Bank. The acquisition helped Provident expand its presence beyond Maryland into Virginia and the metro D.C. area. Further, Provident established half of its full-service branches within area retail stores, including supermarkets.

"We saw significant growth and doubled our accounts within the same size branch footprint," Fitzhugh said. "We did a great job driving traffic into our branches, but we were also creating lines due to inefficient DOS-based teller platform that could not handle the volume."

The 16-bit Windows-based Encore! Teller is installed in all 100 branches, and the open architecture is compatible with other enterprise software, including the Encore! Platform application.

Currently two of Provident's 100 locations use Encore! Platform to improve the account opening process, and an aggressive rollout schedule ensures that all branches will have installed the technology by November. The 32-bit, Windows-based application supports new accounts, deposits, ATM card activation, IRA and certificate transactions, and provides document printing and sales tools.

Encore! Platform resides on PCs at each branch, which in turn are connected to a mainframe Microsoft SQL Server database at headquarters. A wide area network and "connectware" filters data between the branches and data on the database and mainframe.

When a customer opens an account, the platform representative inputs a Social Security number or name. The software connects to the database and searches existing accounts.

If the customer has an existing relationship with Provident, the host pulls preexisting data and accounts back to Encore! Platform and populates the screen. Once account documents are printed, updated information and signature cards are instantly uploaded to the mainframe and stored in the database.

If a customer is new, representatives enter the customer's personal information and product selection. Data is uploaded to the mainframe, documents and signature cards are printed and signed, then sent to a back office where they're scanned into Provident's document image systems.

The old system required bank employees to go through multiple screens to find the correct accounts and rates. "Our reps had to memorize CD interest rates and terms, then go through a series of menu selections to put the right rates and terms together," Fitzhugh said. "The new application displays what CD terms and rates are available, so there's no chance of making a mistake."

The new system offers streamlined decision-making, allowing employees to efficiently open new accounts without errors.

"With DOS, we had limited intelligence and little control of errors," said Fitzhugh. "The new system lets us open accounts correctly while the customer is still seated at the front end rather than search and correct errors on the back end after the customer has left."

Depending on institution size and required functionality, banks can license the software for between $2,000 and $8,000 per branch.

Provident is creating interfaces to its mainframe so that Encore! Teller and Platform will enhance further products like Internet banking and a debit card management system. Provident has already created a prototype for its next project, the addition of electronic signatures to further streamline new account processes.

"We plan to add electronic signatures at branch desktops and connect that to our document imaging system," Fitzhugh said. "By combining these systems together with Encore! Teller and Platform, we will more efficiently manage our branches."

By March, Provident plans to interface Encore! Platform with its imaging technology, allowing branches to image all items processed that day (e.g., checks), and store all data electronically within the database for later retrieval. The addition of electronic signatures will eliminate the handling and processing of paper, and increase speed of service within the branch.

"Electronic signatures will manage the costs associated with handling and storing paper documents, as well as speed service delivery to customers by days," said Fitzhugh.

Since Provident's branches are fully staffed seven days a week, legal documents can be delayed if new business is transacted on weekends. That can delay processing up to three days at times. "Electronic signatures are instant delivery and immediately satisfy and authorize documents from new account signature cards to affidavits," said Fitzhugh.

Provident plans to pilot electronic signatures by the end of this year, and deploy the technology in 2003.

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