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Cathy Ernst, Senior Vice President

There is, without a doubt, a considerable lack of meaningful data within the financial industry. It is inherent to the business. That's the real challenge – learning how to measure performance, understanding what the real data is, and discovering how to capture it.

Our success so far is due largely to the fact that we're capturing data we've never captured before. We are now applying this new information in our strategic planning process.

In the past, we never would step back and look at our business processes because we were too busy doing the work. And as we grew, we "patched" our processes; they got the job done, but were not meeting our customers’ expectations for excellent service. Once you take time to identify your key processes, you suddenly have entire new areas from which to mine information and study the work that makes up your business.

When you rigorously address the "customer’s experience" within your organization, you go beyond marketing and basic customer service. As the customer becomes more involved in your understanding of your processes, you get a much stronger, clearer picture of their expectations. Not only that, but you also learn which parts of your processes add no value. You discover that some of the things on which you've internally placed high priority may make little or no difference to the customer at all.

An Example – Processing Corporate Customer Statements

As one of our first projects, we identified a need to reduce the cycle time on processing corporate customers’ statements. We saw a process full of "pass-through" activities. That is, we had an intake procedure that fed a path through several back-office functions. We also found we were collecting all sorts of information for work reports, but it was probably not the right information to use for accurate measurement of the process.

To get data on what provided value to the customer, we began to monitor when they started calling to ask about the status of their statements. This helped us define the customers’ expectations of acceptable service, and it gave us a target to work towards. Fundamentally, by a detailed analysis of the way things are, we were able to get a much better idea of the way things should be.

Our initial success with the Corporate Statements project has led us to begin new projects concerning our leasing and loan application processes. Actually, we have found that Six Sigma can be used virtually anywhere in the organization. Everyone has tons of information and data, but very few people understand what it really means and whether it has value.

We've also found that, when you start a project, there is always some person on the team who "knows" the problem and the solution right from the start. But once they go through a methodical, disciplined analysis, they learn they didn't have such a great grasp of the situation after all.

This really boils down to common sense, but it's not easy to get there. It requires people who have been professionally prepared to collect and analyze the available information. When you approach the situation with a focused methodology, your problems become very apparent. So do the possible solutions.

On Our Relationship With Six Sigma Qualtec

Our success has been due in large part to our partnership with SSQ. They are professionals dedicated to realizing our success. All of the individuals we've been involved with have been responsive to our frequent needs and questions. You don't want to take any wrong turns in an effort like this, and the people at SSQ have remained dedicated to keeping us on track. That level of support has made all the difference in successfully rolling out our Six Sigma projects.

In 2003, Provident will expand our Six Sigma training. For example, through a licensing agreement with SSQ, we'll reach a large number of individual contributors with yellow belt training. Once other divisions learned of our initial success with Six Sigma, they were eager to participate. Basically, people have realized that they need professional assistance in analyzing their processes in order to have a lasting positive impact on changing the way we do business.

Clients We've Helped

Yell (BT Yellow Pages)
General Electric
Heller Financial
Liberty Insurance
Lockheed Martin
McLeod USA
Owens Corning
Pilkington Group
Royal Dutch Shell
RR Donnelley
Sanyo Energy
State Street Bank
Williams Energy

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