CBA expands cheque imaging

CBA expands cheque imaging

Dr Graeme Towers has steered the Commonwealth Bank through a successful pilot of what is Australia's largest cheque imaging installation.

Back in 1995, Dr Graeme Towers, chief manager for operations centres for the Commonwealth Bank, took a punt on a then-unproven technology to transform the way his bank handled cheques.

Today, the cheque imaging test site he started then has evolved to full production capacity, making the CBA's Sydney operation Australia's largest single cheque image processing site.

The bank has plans underway to expand the imaging system, built around the ImageFirst package from BancTec, into its operations centres across Australia.

"Three years ago, we set out to see how we could exploit image capture and management technology in our cheque processing operations," Dr Towers said.

"Our aim was to prove the technology in the Australian environment, and establish its competitive advantage over conventional systems."

"We believe we can implement what we have learnt in Sydney to realise major efficiency gains across the whole organisation," added Dr Towers.

The Sydney centre now processes up to 470,000 cheques per day, which equates to 13 per cent of the total cheque volume processed by all Australian banks, according to the Commonwealth Bank.

In total, the bank processes around 330 million vouchers per year through all of its sites nation-wide.


ICR (Intelligent Character Recognition) enables the ImageFirst system to automatically read and interpret a percentage of the hand-printed characters on cheques and other documents, reducing the requirement for human intervention in document processing, according to BancTec.

"The experience of our peers, both here and overseas, indicates that implementing this type of technology without adequately re-engineering systems can mean the considerable potential benefits fail to be realised," said Dr Towers.

"Our approach has been to treat the pilot as a learning experience on how to effectively manage an image site."

The technology, based on BancTec's ImageFIRST, is now being evaluated for roll-out to cheque processing sites in other states.

"Our initial aim was to minimise any productivity losses involved with day one processing before we looked at gaining benefits from our day two processing of deposit enquiries, dishonours, special answers and other customer related activities," Dr Towers said.

"We believe the major efficiency gains will come from expanding the technology to day two and customer service operations and accessing some of the more advanced features of the technology, such as Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) and the image archive."

The image archive allows immediate access to electronic images and data, from all cheques and deposits and other associated transaction information.

All images and data can be stored for many years in a cost effective system, which improves efficiency and enables processes and customer service to be streamlined, according to the CBA.

The project team has worked closely with the branch network to ensure vouchers meet certain quality criteria, looked at the design of the documents and changed a number of internal procedures.

"We have made every effort to ensure systems and documents interface with the new imaging technology. Like any new technology, the outputs are only as good as the quality of the inputs," Dr Towers said.