Retirement Plan Provider Prepares for its Own Future

An imaging and workflow solution helped Security Benefit cut document retrieval time from days to minutes and inspired a new line of business

Throughout its more than 110-year history first as a community benefit society, later as a life insurance company, and now as a retirement plan provider Security Benefit has been in the business of helping people build financially secure futures.  From annuities to mutual funds to innovative retirement investment products, the Topeka, Kan., company today manages more than $15 billion in assets.  It serves customers in all 50 states through a nationwide network of independent broker-dealers and currently has some half a million contracts in force.  Perhaps best known as the retirement plan provider for the National Education Associations 2.7 million members, Security Benefit specializes in IRAs and 403(b) plans for K-12 educational professionals. 

Five years ago, though, Security Benefits leadership took steps to invest more heavily in the companys own future.  Chief Executive Officer Kris Robbins laid out a new vision for the company: one that would be built on a platform of advanced technology.  For Director of Technology Solutions Brent Littleton that had to begin with an overhaul of Security Benefits IT infrastructure.  Besides replacing the companys outdated mainframe applications, Littletons group led the changeover to a paperless company by implementing document imaging and workflow.

Like its competitors, all of Security Benefits processes were paper based.  This made the processing, archiving and retrieval of customer documents time-consuming.  On a typical day, Security Benefit would receive by mail thousands of customer documents, including new applications, payments, request forms and other correspondence.  A group of four support services employees worked full time opening and sorting the mail, filming it, and transferring the images to microfiche and rolls of microfilm.  The hard copies were then filed. 

When customer service representatives needed to access customer documents to validate a surrender request, verify information on an application or check the status of a request form, for example they had to search the thousands of microfilm rolls onsite.  Finding the relevant documents could take days. 

Integrated Imaging and Workflow Speed Payment Processing

To select and install its imaging and workflow system, Security Benefit enlisted the help of Paragon Systems, a software developer and systems integrator based in Westborough, Mass.  The system originally comprised two high-volume production scanners, out-of-the-box image capture software and server-based storage. 

Now when the mail arrived at Security Benefit each day between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., support services staff opened, prepared and scanned it.  Barcodes provided detailed information about each document and how it should be indexed.  The images were made available to employees across the companys network, usually the same morning the documents were received.  The images were searchable by various identifiers, such as customer Social Security number or contract number.  Now able to locate customer data far more quickly, account representatives and processors could answer customers questions immediately on the phone, whereas before they had to take a message, track down and view the documents in microfilm, and then call back the customer. 

Security Benefits business grew quickly over the next couple years, and its document volumes increased dramatically.  At the same time, document imaging technology made significant advances.  These conditions, together with Security Benefits ongoing mission to gain efficiencies and improve quality using advanced technology, convinced the company it was time to upgrade. 

Working with Paragon Systems, Littletons group replaced its scanners with two Bwe Bell + Howell Copiscan 8125 Spectrum high-speed scanners outfitted with Kofaxs VirtualReScan (VRS) image enhancement software.  Ascent Capture, also from Kofax, was selected to replace the old capture software.  Security Benefit quickly found that the benefits of its new and enhanced document management system went well beyond speedier access to customer information. 

As a retirement plan provider, Security Benefit faces monetary penalties for funds received from customers but not invested on the same day they are delivered.  For this reason, payments such as annuities investments are set apart and pushed to the front of the processing queue.  Starting soon after the mail arrives, support services now completes the entire days scanning comfortably by 10 a.m.  It helps that each Spectrum scanner, with a daily duty cycle of 60,000 pages, can scan up to 125 pages per minute.  We kept one of the old scanners as a backup in case one of the new ones went down, said Littleton, but that has never happened.  What is more, the barcodes for these documents contain the payment amounts.  If this amount matches the amount Security Benefit billed the customer, the system automatically saves the digital image and categorizes the transaction as completed.  The payment transaction flows automatically to the administrative system where the funds are applied.  As Littleton points out, This is just one example of how weve achieved Straight Through Processing with our new technology framework.

At the same time, Security Benefit gradually began to roll out imaging to its other business departments.  Groups such as finance, human resources and marketing had run entirely paper-based operations and accumulated vast quantities of paper over many years. But with mail scanning completed by 10 a.m. each day, the imaging system and staff were now available to convert these documents into digital images.

Load It and Leave It

Scanner operators at Security Benefit found the new imaging system much easier to use.  With the previous scanners, operators had to hand feed the documents and closely monitor the scanners to make sure no double-feeds occurred.  With the Spectrum scanners and Ascent Capture, however, support services personnel can load it and leave it, as Littleton says, making them available to work on other projects.  The systems consistency relies in part on the Spectrum scanners very reliable ultrasonic multi-feed detection, which prevents multiple documents from feeding through the scanner at the same time.

The paper processed at Security Benefit comes in all sizes, shapes and thicknesses.  Documents range from legal, letter or coupon size, to checks and handwritten notes on irregularly shaped pieces of paper.  Fortunately, the scanners and image enhancement software automatically adjust document skew, brightness, contrast and image quality.  This ensures the images customer service personnel reference are clear and legible, regardless of the quality of the original documents. 

By digitizing its paper-based processes, Security Benefit has freed up space it once needed for microfilm and hard copy files.  In fact, when Security Benefit relocated to a new facility recently, there was no need to allocate space for the filing cabinets that once housed these records.  After documents are scanned, hard copies are stored for only 30 days and then destroyed.  Furthermore, by securely storing digital images, Security Benefit complies with SEC, state and other legal requirements for document retention. 

All told, Security Benefit performs about 300,000 scans a month, at least 10 times more than it did five years ago.  As a result of its new technology infrastructure, including document imaging and workflow, Security Benefit has reduced overall IT expenses by 40 percent and processing costs in its service department by 35 percent.  The company also dramatically improved its customer service, cutting response time from days to minutes.  And in the same time period that the company achieved these drastic savings, it experienced a 50 percent increase in sales volume. 

Crossing the Threshold into Distributed Scanning

When Security Benefit invested in an insurance broker-dealers office in California last year, Littletons team was asked to look for ways to leverage the technology advancements at Security Benefit at the broker-dealer.  The IT group faced a new challenge: how to integrate the broker-dealers document management procedures with its own.  After consulting Paragon Systems, Security Benefit decided to make its first foray into distributed scanning using entry-level scanners at a remote location to capture document images and sending them on to a larger central location.

In need of an imaging solution that was easy to install, use and maintain, Security Benefit decided on the Bwe Bell + Howell Sidekick 1400.  A departmental scanning solution, Sidekick came with all the components needed to set up and run a desktop imaging system.  In addition to Kofaxs Capio desktop document capture application, the scanner came equipped with VRS and shared a common user interface with Security Benefits Spectrum scanners.  These features made it far easier to integrate the California office with the Topeka operations. 

The remote office is using its desktop imaging solution to convert some 2 million stored documents into digital images.  These include documents broker-dealers are required to retain, such as customer applications for annuities and life insurance, contracts with licensed salesmen who represent the broker-dealer and documents for verifying sales suitability.

Technology Solution Presents New Revenue Opportunity

By last year, Security Benefit had created and refined a cost-effective technologically advanced IT infrastructure including, with the assistance of Paragon Systems, its customized imaging and workflow.  Company leaders realized that to capitalize fully on the IT investment, Security Benefit could make its innovative technology platform and expertise available to others in its industry. 

So in August 2005 Security Benefit launched se2, a wholly owned subsidiary, to provide outsourced business processing services to companies that specialize in life insurance and annuity products.  Companies that select se2 route their mail directly to its service facility.  The support services staff open, prep and scan the incoming documents and the automated workflow ensures work is loaded into company specific work queues.  

Business generated by se2 represents more than 300,000 customer contracts.  But with its imaging and workflow system in place, the company has been able to handle the increased document volume without increasing IT staff or ongoing technology expenses.  Littleton credits the companys state-of-the-art IT platform, including the high duty cycle of the Spectrum 8125 scanners.

By implementing imaging and workflow, Security Benefit managed swelling document volumes and improved customer service during a period of extreme sales growth without adding staff.  And with a bit of ingenuity, the company even parlayed its technology investment into a new revenue stream.

All of which convinces Littleton that Security Benefits future is as secure as those of the customers it serves.

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