Masters of Understatement

Improving the customer experience, making it easier to do business, reducing operating costs – accomplishing any of these things would usually qualify an IT project as a success. It’s rare that one project can do all three, and rarer still if the project creates unexpected benefits throughout the organization.

RBC Royal Bank had the extraordinary good fortune to see one of its IT projects become its own multiplier effect. The bank’s original intention was to improve the automated production of clients’ personal deposit account statements. But the project produced so many benefits that it has changed the bank’s IT culture and revolutionized the way it delivers information to clients.

Implemented between December 2004 and January 2006, the Personal Deposit Account (PDA) Paper Statements project was a make-or-break initiative for a new business architecture implemented throughout Royal Bank under the direction of Marty Lippert, vice chairman and group head, global technology and operations.

Development of that architecture began in 2003 and continues today. It was designed to improve the experience that the bank delivers to clients through the innovative use of technology.

The architecture follows the principles of a service-oriented architecture and is composed of distinct tiers – data, applications, and clients – permitting isolation of the business logic from database components and the presentation layer. This means that independent technology components can be created, distributed and reused, reducing development costs and cutting the time to market for new client services.

“This cross-functional initiative allowed us to create a technology environment that is more flexible and scales across the enterprise, through the use of IT best practices, to deliver an enhanced client and employee experience,” Lippert says.

The first test for this new architecture was to improve communications with RBC’s personal-deposit clients, and particularly to reduce the amount of paper they receive.

Before the project, RBC produced and mailed more than 60 million statements to personal-deposit account customers every year. The inclusion of cancelled cheques in each statement added to the administrative burden. Customers with more than one account received multiple, separate mailings.

Today RBC offers these customers the option of receiving their statements in a way that reduces the environmental burden and increases convenience. Clients can choose to sign up at to receive electronic statements. They can also choose whether or not to have multiple account statements consolidated on to a single statement.

Cancelled cheques are no longer returned with mailed PDA statements. Clients can choose, however, to have paper images of the cheques included with their statements. Through an “electronic filing cabinet” capability, clients can store images of statements and cheques in an electronic archive for up to seven years.

Clients have welcomed this change and, earlier than expected, they have chosen to turn off their paper statements in favour of online statements.


Although the project was delivered on time and on budget, getting there wasn’t easy.

The bank had to extract client data from the legacy paper-based system and prepare it for both electronic and paper statement configuration, so it could be consolidated and combined. This was done using complex formulas and algorithms to ensure that the combination of accounts and owners was 100-per-cent accurate.

Client privacy was the number one priority. Colin McKay, vice president of business architecture, explains, “The biggest risk we had was that the data could be placed in the wrong envelope and sent to the wrong client. So we needed a lot of quality control over address and client-information matching.”

The project team developed an innovative parallel testing strategy. Detailed test cases and expected results were documented simultaneously by several business and function teams. The parallel testing streams shortened the time required for testing to five months from the projected nine.

McKay recalls, “We had a number of test cases running in parallel and we tracked the number of defects that we expected to see, the length of time it took to fix the defects and get the data back into the cycle, and so on. We knew on a daily basis how we were doing against our plan.” Finally, the team ran a prototype delivery of the statements to make sure that deliveries were accurate. The results were flawless.


Meanwhile, McKay and his project team were developing the client-statement architecture underlying the new statements. This made use of existing statement-production applications and systems along with a new business-rules engine to define a shared process. The intention was to reuse this architecture to support other business units.

As the PDA Paper Statement project moved forward, it became clear that it was much more than just an IT initiative. Approximately 100 people with diverse backgrounds and expertise worked on the project at one point or another, and personnel from seven other organizations had to be involved. One of those was Symcor, a Mississauga-based company which is contracted to manage client-statement delivery operations for RBC, and which is owned by RBC and two other banks.

“One of the things that wasn’t standard, at least at the Royal Bank, was that we involved our business partners in completing the data mapping and participated in the testing with our IT partners earlier in the process,” said Sylvie Spenard, who served as program manager for the project. “Usually IT wants to complete their development and full testing prior to the business completing their own. We worked in partnership and took a different approach that saved us time and re-work.”


Payoff from the project has come in many forms. The new PDA statement process has resulted in annual cost savings in excess of $10 million. The number of monthly mailings has been reduced by 600,000, cutting the amount of paper being consumed by 1.4 million pages a month and lowering the cost of statement production by 19 per cent.

The new statement program has also created a new revenue stream for the bank. Clients who choose to have printed images of their cancelled cheques included with their paper statement are charged a nominal fee if they don’t have a special account pricing package.

For its exceptional application of information technology to solve real-world business problems, RBC Royal Bank won a 2006 Silver Award of Excellence from the Canadian Information Productivity Awards in the Efficiency and Operational Improvements, For Profit category.

Beyond its immediate financial benefits and recognition, the project inspired the creation of a Client Reporting Centre of Excellence. Located in downtown Toronto, this centre now houses the people, processes and methodology that first came together in the PDA Paper Statements project and now are regarded as a best practice within RBC.

The centre opened in July 2006 under the direction of Sylvie Spenard. Projects are managed jointly with Symcor using a cross-functional approach with subject-matter experts assigned to the program.

“Previously, if a product group wanted to make a change to their client reporting statements they would approach the IT group responsible for that product’s back-end system. At any point there might be requests for modification or creation of new statements going point to point among 20 different groups,” McKay says. “Now they all come through one Centre of Excellence. It has all of the subject-matter experts with responsibility for the architecture in one place. It has made life easier for everybody.”

The Centre for Excellence has worked on approximately 20 projects under a unified governance structure since the PDA Paper Statements project provided proof for the concept. Client statements have been automated and enhanced for credit and mortgage products. Electronic statements will be deployed for investment and business accounts at the beginning of next year.


McKay notes that a key to the success of the project was putting the client first. “We always start with the client. With any technology change, we need to understand the potential impact on the client and how it could improve the client experience,” he says.

“Next, we want to improve the employee experience. These electronic statements have enabled our internal staff to see the statements on their computer screens when they are handling client inquiries. That has reduced the time to handle inquiries and means that employees have the ability to serve clients consistently across all channels.”

Finally, the PDA Paper Statements project showed that with sufficient advance notice and the right level of communication, clients can be surprisingly open to new ideas to streamline service. Out of 4.5 million PDA paper-statement clients, only a small number ever phoned RBC’s call centre with comments.

“I think this is due to a combination of effective bank communications and the fact that the world is changing,” McKay says. “Clients were much more ready for this than we had anticipated.” All told, the PDA Paper Statements project positioned RBC as an industry leader in financial reporting to customers. It has improved operational efficiency and reduced monthly operating costs, while supporting the bank’s strategy of “always earning the right to be our client’s first choice.” And success like that is money in the bank.

Note: Winners of CIPA awards, such as RBC Royal Bank, are celebrated at the CIPA Gala Banquet in November of each year for excellence that fosters innovation and enhanced productivity and global competitiveness in Canada. For more information on this year’s gala, visit

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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