Missouri lender weans itself off faxes, paper

The truly paperless office remains an elusive target, especially for companies with a focus on certain types of consumers.

Take, for instance, FCS Financial, a government-sponsored institution that has loaned money to farmers in the Show-Me State for 85 years. FCS is diversifying to help handle a growing segment of loans to city dwellers buying small hobby farms, according to Dennis Risinger, senior vice president of information services. In fact, that's one reason the institution changed its name in September from Farm Credit Services of Missouri.

More than 80 percent of FCS's US$1.8 billion in loans last year were used to buy farmland or equipment such as tractors. And 95 percent of its loan applications are still filled out on paper -- lots of paper.

"Even a small mortgage loan means we are looking at about 100 to 125 pages of paper," Risinger said. "Farmers' incomes are hard to estimate, and you have crop inventories to deal with. So, yeah, these applications are a bit more complex than applying for a mortgage with eLoan."

Although FCS workers used the latest versions of Microsoft Office and had long used e-mail, they were behind in a key area: They had no way to digitize the tens of thousands of lengthy loan applications they received annually.

That also meant the lone fax machine in each of FCS's 29 branch offices, used to send applications back and forth to the central office in Jefferson City, became vital to operations. "If the paper jammed in the fax or we ran out of toner, the branch office would pretty much have to shut down," said Risinger.

But FCS has weaned itself from its dependence on faxes and paper documents while speeding up the overall time to process loan applications by 30 percent. Two years ago, it began using document-scanning software from eCopy Inc. in conjunction with Canon scanners and multifunction machines.

"Document management systems for big companies are usually fairly complex and require an army of consultants to help you convert. ECopy was very intuitive and allowed us to start digitizing paper documents before we had a full document repository," Risinger said.

With eCopy's Desktop and ShareScan software, FCS's 200 employees can take loan applications they've received as faxes and scan them into PDF documents for electronic archiving. Multiple users can also view and highlight sections of the PDF or add annotations. Risinger said it is an intuitive way for employees to collaborate on documents, since it so closely resembles the off-line method of using highlighters and pens.

Although Risinger did look at other solutions, he said eCopy's all-inclusive features, one-button integration with Microsoft Office and Outlook, and easy-to-use interface appealed to him. "Our employees could e-mail, but saving files to network drives and then asking them to go out and find them to attach to e-mails was beyond them at that point," he said.

Still, Risinger said FCS workers have surprised him by using eCopy in advanced ways, such as using its convert-to-PDF features to attach related files in different formats into one long PDF file.

ECopy costs US$4,195 for a license to work with a digital networked scan/print/fax machine, along with 10 desktop licenses for users. FCS was able to earn back its investment on eCopy within three months.

FCS started with Version 6 of eCopy. But it is in the midst of upgrading all 200 users to Version 9 of the software, which he says "adds a lot more polish." Risinger said his biggest beef with earlier versions of eCopy was the optical character recognition (OCR) engine, forcing FCS to use one from a third party. With Version 9, FCS plans to move back to eCopy's built-in OCR engine.

FCS is also adding a central document management repository from Captaris to enable easy sharing and searching of the more than 6TB of documents in FCS's storage-area network.

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