“Ideas are the most fragile things in the world, and if you do not write them down they will be lost forever.”
Phil Cooke – One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do
Dear Reader, I wish to reflect on some issues happening around us – like Bad Record-Keeping, as Records management is an often overlooked and underrated procedure in many businesses.
Imagine that your company is about to enter legal proceedings over an alleged failure to honour some parts of an international trade deal, when your lawyers inform you that your copy of said contract differs from that held by the other party. Can you prove your copy is the correct version?
Or imagine your bank being sued by a customer for some unauthorised debits on the account, and the court has asked your bank to produce some documents to substantiate claims going back six years. Unfortunately, your bank can only retrieve the relevant transaction records for the past two years. The earlier ones have been deleted in a migration exercise!
Finally, imagine there is a fire in the bank and the customer’s account-opening documents, loan files, security documents etc. have been completely burnt. Are there any backup copies of the documents, systems data, customer information, title deeds or other sensitive information?
These are all real-life examples of what can happen when an organisation’s records risk management is deficient. Most people see records as boring at best and an expensive nuisance at worst. Yet when the time comes for you to retrieve them, the bitter truth hits you because they are just not there. An organization can lose millions of cedis in any court.
Coming nearer home, do you remember a few years ago when the Sole Commissioner of the Judgement Debt Commission requested that the central bank submit some documents on various transactions performed over a decade ago? I am sure you remember the embarrassment that ensued.
What is record-keeping?
The Cambridge Business English Dictionary says that record-keeping is: the activity of organising and storing all the documents, files, invoices etc. relating to a company’s or organisation’s activities.
Dear Bankers, please reflect on the following questions:
- Where do you keep your records?
- How seriously do you take the little pieces of stationery that you write on, read; the forms that you complete, the red marks that you make on some documents when you call over a transaction; and the signatures you append to some documents?
- How well do you keep your records? Is it important to you? It should be if you know what can happen to you when you are ‘subpoenaed to appear in court, or in front of a Public Committee, to explain your role in a transaction that happened a decade ago.
- Do you think filing is only for Trained Secretaries and Personal Assistants? Do you know that a boss who does not take care of, or is disinterested in, record-keeping is digging his or her own grave?
- If you have left your office due to retirement, transfer or even resignation, can you remember every transaction that you worked on? Of course not!
- Does your bank have an Archival Policy? What are the retention periods for documents?
- Do bank employees appreciate the need for varying retention periods of various documents in the bank? (cheques, bank drafts, customer information and mandate files, loan files, circulars file, correspondence file, Agreements, Guarantees, vouchers etc., etc.)
- How are ‘PEP’ accounts (Politically Exposed Persons) and transactions kept. Are they in accordance with Bank of Ghana regulations?
- What is your bank’s e-mail policy? Is it regularly communicated to all staff?
- Are the staff aware that all e-mail conversations can be kept for at least six years, as they are the bank’s property?
- Are staff aware that all their private conversations through e-mail are available for retention even after they have ‘deleted’ them from their computers?
- Have you recommended or approved some loans that you shouldn’t have? Were you coerced by someone (internally or externally)? Was the influence on paper or verbal? Did you record your observations and cautions about the document in a professional manner? Remember that you are the technical person, and the boss is relying on you.
- Operations Manager, have you been leaving your Teller’s vouchers loosely and not under lock and key? Stop tempting someone to attempt fraudulent pull-outs!
- Do you still operate a ‘Float File’ system, or do you regard it as ‘colo’? Please note that the float file in traditional banking is the file of last resort, and is still in its new digitised form. If someone shreds any evidence that can assist you during an enquiry, the float file or its soft copy will not disappoint you.
- Do you keep both hard and soft copies of data? Do you have a back-up of all data stored on your institution?
- Do you have a Disaster Recovery Process? Don’t tell me “NO”!!
- IT-Manager, how do you dispose of old computers in the bank? Do you innocently dash them to under-privileged institutions without replacing the mother-board? Of course, the mother-board houses all the bank’s best-kept secrets! I am not an expert in this field, but I have definitely heard of some embarrassing stories. Remember, we owe a duty of confidentiality to our customers.
- Bank employees, whether senior or junior staff, do you ensure a clean desk at the end of day – devoid of documents that can be used against you? Do you put your customers’ letters, signatures, balances out of sight and under lock and key before you go home?
Let me share a true story with you. A bank manager was summoned to a SFO, now EOCO, during the late nineties when government instituted a forensic audit of a state bank. Do you know what saved her? She had made some annotations about her concerns of the proposal on the original copies of some loan appraisal papers; and, of course, there were extra copies on float. To cut a long story short, she was absolved from any implied misdeed on that customer’s loan appraisal. Don’t under-estimate the power of the pen and the signature as well as the ‘insignificant’ record-keeping.
Record-keeping in the Digital Age
The explosion in digital information and accompanying technology experienced over the last two decades has transformed the job of records-managers and archivists. The vast volume of digital data generated challenge some of the key questions which lie at the heart of records management: what needs to be kept, how long for, and how to protect it. The landscape of records management is changing. With the rise of digital content, and our increasing reliance on it, changes to the way we manage our records are inevitable – and thus creation of the newly-published ISO 15489-1.
Records are crucial to any organisation. Companies that operate under a risk management programme identify the high-risk areas within their activity and take steps to maintain adequate records to mitigate those risks. If, on the other hand, their records processes and systems are not supported by sound risk management practices, then the very means of addressing their business risks are undermined. While a strong, well-thought out records management process can make organisations efficient and effective, bad records management can lead to messy and incomprehensible workspaces, irritable employees, and the loss of information.
Consequences of Bad Records Management
Over time, poor records management can lead to:
- Excessive amounts of time wasted sorting through messy filing cabinets
- Valuable office space is used to store paperwork, forcing the company to pay premium prices for document storage
- Files are misplaced, buried, and lost
- Communication between co-workers erodes
- Employee stress levels rise as their ability to find and share information becomes unnecessarily challenging
How to Solve a Case of Bad Records Management
Depending on your company’s unique needs, there are a variety of solutions to bad records management issues.
- Switch to The Cloud
Cloud storage services are flexible and convenient. There is a huge trend toward using cloud storage because files stored in the cloud are easily accessible from anywhere, and storage options can easily be increased as your company grows.
- Use a DMS (Document Management System)
If you manage digital files, you can better organise your files to meet your business needs. With features that help you name, sort, organise, code, retrieve, share and secure your files, a DMS will help you manage a large volume of digital files simply and safely.
- Store Records Offsite
If you company still handles physical paperwork, offsite storage services free-up precious office space. Store records that need to be kept but not frequently accessed at an offsite facility.
Finally, my dear Readers, even though “to err is human”, at the end of every day sit up, look around you, and check whether there are any incriminating documents around you; check to ensure you have not unconsciously dropped any valuable document in your waste-basket. Shut down all your systems and say a word of prayer to God, then go and have a good night’s sleep.
Let us pray that we are not called upon to meet EOCO, FIC, Bank of Ghana or the Courts and wonder where the records were kept. Posterity will judge us!!!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.