U.S. Bancorp Fund Services, with more than 40 years of experience in servicing mutual funds, recently obtained the ISO 9001 certification for its transfer agent services. Money Management Executive recently spoke with Ian Martin, executive vice president, transfer agent, about this process and how its Knowledge Management System played a key role.
MME: Your transfer agency services were ISO 9001-certified in 2008 by the International Organization for Standardization, recognized for their quality of customer service. Is such certification uncommon?
Ian Martin: It's the first time that U.S. Bancorp Fund Services' transfer agency has been certified. We don't believe that there is another transfer agent that has this certification.
MME: How rigorous was the process?
Martin: Extremely. It took us 2-1/2 years from start to finish, beginning when we decided to go down this path and got our managers on board the effort. We met with other ISO-certified companies to get their feedback and brought on a consultant.
MME: Your company received the recognition primarily because of your Knowledge Management System, a vast storehouse of qualitative and quantitative data about U.S. Bancorp services. How does the system work?
Martin: As we began the ISO process, we crystallized our vision and core values. The key to the Knowledge Management System is that it aligns all of our key performance indicators (KPIs) around our ultimate objective, which is our vision and core values. We established a SharePoint environment via ShareVis, which is a document workflow tool that became the single point of access for all of our 246 transfer agent employees. It's an enormous, paperless library that all of employees use throughout the day that allows us to keep track of the documents, along with automation that audits and makes sure those documents don't age or become stale.
Documents are controlled by an owner, as well as two levels of approval, before they can get loaded into the system. It's a pretty elaborate system that matches customer communications to all our key performance indicators and all of our objectives.
MME: What do the KPIs track?
Martin: I've stopped counting how many KPIs we have, but they range from the simple, such as how quickly phones are answered, to efficiency and accuracy ratios, vendor scorecards and employee and customer surveys. Typically, we survey people who have the most interaction with clients.
This is done on a continual basis, for one of our sayings is, "In God we trust. Everyone else must show data." The first employee survey gave us a basis in year one. Each time we conduct a survey, if we have not improved in all of the categories, we put a documented policy in place to ensure that we are moving forward to improve that specific category, and follow up with another survey to make sure those steps are effective.
MME: How well did the system work during the market downturn when investor communication with fund companies rose dramatically?
Martin: When we made the decision to go down the path of ISO certification, we were at the height of our business, growing at rates twice the industry average, and our customer service satisfaction was extremely high. But because it forced us to keep track of efficiencies, we were ahead of the game in regards to process efficiencies and controlling expenses. Without question, it helped us respond to the difficult times.
MME: How great an improvement in your numbers do you find each time you survey? What standards do you set?
Martin: We have a scale of one to four, so if you have an average of 3.95, there's not a lot of room to grow. Our expectation is that if we are not achieving over a three, the goal is to get to a three the next time, regardless of the percentage increase. The overall goal is to see improvement each time.
MME: How motivating is this for your employees and your clients?
Martin: The employee engagement we have seen over the last two years is extremely high. I've gotten a lot of great feedback from clients about the ISO certification, letting us know we've gone from good to great.
MME: One of the goals of your Knowledge Management System is to create new services. What are some examples?
Martin: Obviously, that's a great piece of the feedback, but we also have identified a lot of opportunities for merely improving servicing through new technologies.
Along with increased servicing, there are other results that we have achieved over the course of the ISO process that demonstrate how much better we have become, most notably recognition from National Quality Review. When we started this effort, our baseline was to be above the NQR average. We accomplished that for 20-plus quarters in a row. Our next goal was to be in the top quartile, and we accomplished that for 16 consecutive quarters. Most recently, we were cited as best-in-class in terms of accuracy and timeliness.
Many companies will say they have a vision and core values and are continuously improving. We've really taken it to the next level by having our Knowledge Management System reviewed by a third-party assessor, and our numbers continue to improve.
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