Building Efficiency in Your Files

This topic may seem quite simple for a blog, but it has been near the top of my mind as we are in process of implementing a new tickler system to help manage our credit files.  It surprises me at times, how disorganized files become.  I have seen instances where loan file contents may be found in a physical loan file, in items on the computer, with the loan secretary, and in the loan officer’s possession all at once!  I have also seen some more technology-savvy institutions which have different parts of the same file spread on different computer platforms. 

In each case, this promotes inefficiency.  One of the things that bugs me the most is when I cannot find an item I am looking for when I know I am looking in the correct location!  Yet, I know at times that in the busyness of the day, it is easy to misfile an item to go on to the next task.  The first problem is failing to realize that file inefficiency is a silent stealer of time.  This time can be used for anything else in life, increased productivity, serving others more, or devoting more time to family.  It is along these lines I offer a few tips on what we have discovered at Pactola.  This does not mean we are perfect, by any means, but we are pursuing excellence.

If your institution operates in various locations, and you find that folks in those locations need access to the same file, consider moving as much as you can to a digital file.  This greatly saves time in accessing file items.  We found this essential in our shop as we work with participants and staff that are spread throughout the country.  We eliminated paper files completely, only keeping a copy of the closing documents (which are digitized as well) in a paper file.  Also, strong backups are very important to put in place. 

Now if you are in the computer file world, it is important to set up a standard set of file folders within a loan file where items can be organized.  It makes it much quicker to go into the “appraisal” folder to find the appraisal or into the “title insurance” folder to find the final title commitment and all items associated with that.  Your standard set of sub folders may change some with the particular loan type, e.g. a SBA loan may need different folders than a construction loan.  The file folder standards should be determined by the team which will be touching the files the most. 

Next is how to name items that go into the folder.  Just scanning documents into a file and having your printer associate a random file name to it will still cause you to go through multiple files to find what you are missing.  Our team came up with a naming procedure that has the date, borrower or guarantor, and document description in the file name.  Whatever you do, again, have this created by those who touch the files the most. 

The next step is to create a tickler system or to use a program that accomplishes this.  Ticklers are important to help manage your time and make sure all items are requested and received to keep the commercial or agricultural file current.  There are several programs to do this or simple ones can be created using programs in Microsoft Office.  Without this tool, it is nearly impossible to best manage ongoing file needs and activities. 

A quality control process should also be instilled.  Perhaps this can be completed when one team member builds a loan file and tickler and a different person reviews the file for completeness.  It never hurts to have other eyes reviewing the file contents for accuracy. 

These standards should then be reviewed periodically by your team and taught to new members.  The organization and file naming structure can apply to files that are not directly related to a loan.  Every institution will have files for resources, economic information, and program manuals, to name a few.  Keeping these organized and easily accessible saves valuable time. 

Keeping files organized and clean is an ongoing task.  I once had a boss who required everyone to take a week in January to clean out any personal computer and paper files.  In today’s information age, data builds up.  Some of it becomes useless or irrelevant over time.  It is like the story of the doctor who refused to clean out old magazines in his waiting room.  Instead he set up a sign for “historical periodical reference material”.    Some of the items you are holding onto may be useful in the future, but many items require timely purging to avoid wading through the data to find what you need.