Cooperative banks—Optimize operations and IT

Process management is not a luxury, but a necessity to keep control of costs and income.
Sandra Douqué, Senior Manager


Low interest rates, digitalization, regulations, demographic shifts—not a day goes by without cooperative banks having to deal with one of these topics. That should not come as a surprise, as each of these challenges has significant implications on current business models and profitability. Previously implemented measures such as raising fees in payment transactions or adjusting interest rates for deposit products have already been taken into account and will in future no longer suffice as individual measures to save the banks.

The good news: there is reason for hope! This applies to lending business in particular. In terms of sales, service portfolios need to be streamlined while maintaining individuality. Sensible process optimization also opens up major opportunities in operations. 

The greatest untapped potential of regional banks can be leveraged in their own core business. Lending business, due to its overarching meaning within the bank, is the greatest lever. The organizational and operational structure must be moved into focus and the efficiency and effectiveness ensured by means of a sustainable approach to process optimization—regardless of whether or not know-how needs to be built up from scratch or focused optimization measures with coordinated process and project management have already been launched. Driving this forward with purpose pays off.




Making processes more efficient: in terms of digital transformation and the necessary cost reductions, this will be the top topic for the next few years—however, not all cooperative banks are prepared for this. The prerequisites for successfully optimizing operations and IT are that the institutions systematically standardize everything that can be standardized, that they automate processes and utilize the technical possibilities of the core banking system. 

Process optimization is however not only a technological issue, but also cultural. For this reason, staff must be enabled to rethink. After all, the most important catalysts of change—or at worst, inhibitors of change—are the people working in the bank.



“To be as responsive and customer-minded  as a direct bank? We would love to be—but with our IT, our processes and our staff, we can’t.”  We hear this from bank executives again and again. But, it’s no longer an excuse. All regional banks can be responsive, customer-minded and efficient if they want to. 

New competitors are leading the way—and not only fintech companies. Direct banks and online banks manage to grant loans in 15 minutes, offer account opening or securities account setup completely digitally or even allow customers to purchase securities at any time of the day or night from a smartphone. With the right processes, cooperative banks can also make loan decisions in retail and corporate banking that only take up to a quarter of an hour until pay-out—several successful zeb customer projects prove this.

Developing guidelines for process management and viewing them as part of the strategy
To establish smooth process management, we first create a common understanding of central guidelines such as efficiency, effectiveness and stability—and define what that means for the respective tasks. Based on this, we introduce our clients to methods of interdisciplinary and agile working methods. We present well-established and often scientifically proven recommendations for action. The medium-term aim is to build teams with clearly defined roles and responsibilities to work independently and across departments.

The six central building blocks of efficient process management

Defining responsibilities and remotivating staff
It is true that even small banks now have process managers or organizational departments to manage processes. But often a structured approach and clear efficiency targets that are directly derived from the bank’s strategy are missing. We provide solutions by defining a strategic efficiency target that we use to derive the target image for processes, before organizing the processes and responsibilities in a decentralized and agile manner into interdisciplinary teams. This way, we can guarantee banks optimized, customer-centric processes as well as faster and simpler decision-making—from the first customer meeting through to completion, such as paying out a loan.

Optimizing processes and lowering costs long-term
Relating to processes, especially in lending business, there are various starting points for increasing income long-term and significantly reducing costs. In terms of sales, the service portfolio needs to be streamlined and despite faster, more transparent decision-making paths, the necessary individuality needs to be maintained. In operations, a risk and complexity-oriented optimization of all processes offers great opportunities. Standard business can be managed with standardized processes.  Only special cases or processes with low volumes are given an interface to the back office. This also applies for lending business. The sophisticated loan processes offer an ideal starting point for growth and increasing quality and cost efficiency. Here, aside from task completion on the market, process standardization and opportunities for automation, the focus is also on staffing measures.

zeb recommends the establishment of interdisciplinary process teams

Venturing into greater automation and gaining time for value-adding activities
When it comes to digitalized service offers, each regional bank needs to square the circle—customers want individual advice, but banks need to standardize these offers as much as possible due to costs. Our ambition at zeb is to combine the two: ensuring an optimal service from the customer’s point of view, while also significantly reducing the effort for the bank. This requires much more automation. Rather than tying up valuable customer advisor time collecting data manually for granting loans, this can be carried out much faster and more efficiently by robots. These robots learn to imitate recurring processes based on mouse movements, clicks and keyboard entries. Many processes can be radically simplified through robotic process automation (RPA), thereby freeing up staff from administrative duties.

Credit processes and artificial intelligence? Already more than just a pipe dream
When applying for a mortgage, customers often need to submit dozens of documents to their bank, often more than once if certain data is illegible or required again at a later stage. This is because too many banks process their documents by hand and do not work with standardized check lists.  Loan processes are not automated and documents are often not even digitized. Artificial intelligence (AI) offers further future-oriented solutions here. For example, software for automated processing of forms can read hand-written documents, translate them and immediately check their plausibility. Is the pay slip genuine? Does the specified income match the value on the application? Is the signature the same on all documents and does it match the signature in the electronic archive? What documents are still required for a complete mortgage application?

At zeb, we either introduce AI completely or develop existing approaches further: from programming software and creating rules to implementation. As we know all about setting up efficient and secure loan processes, we recognize which solution is sensible in what setting and reliably deliver the necessary know-how.