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Is Your Check Archive Underfed?

Check Image technology has advanced dramatically in the last two decades, leading to widespread transformation of financial institution operations in almost every organization in the U.S. The Check 21 act created the impetus for all financial institutions to participate in the exchange of images in place of paper. ECCHO led the initiative to help financial institutions adopt the ANSI X9.37 standard with the development of the Universal Companion Document, helping all financial institutions to better understand how to comply with the standard and minimize friction in the image exchange process. After a couple more rounds of tweaking, we now have a conglomerate of the original ANSI X9 standard and the UCD in X9.100-187. This has become the ‘bible’ for financial institutions to follow in exchanging images, and it has helped to move the process to ubiquity.

In addition to adhering to the standard for exchange, many financial institutions have also applied the X9 standard to the files they move within their payment systems internally, and even to the layout of their archive data records. The standardization of the metadata stored among multiple financial institutions’ archives may help improve interoperability, and could smooth the operational transition during a merger. However, it may not be in the best interest of every financial institution to limit themselves to storing little more than what is required for exchange in their long-term check image archives. The result may be that a lot of financial institutions’ have archives that are underfed – they have the information needed to get by, but they could be so much more useful if they held additional metadata.

During this last decade, financial institutions have rolled out projects of all kinds to take advantage of the image technology that has proliferated throughout the industry. They have engaged with all sorts of vendors to set up check image archives and then use those archives to present and use images in countless other back- and front- office applications. Often during these projects, the designers of new systems and processes have used the X9 standard to guide development of protocols for moving check images and data around their operations. Adhering to the standard probably made the project teams’ jobs a lot easier and avoided a great deal of confusion during development and implementation. But did the end users of those new systems and processes get the rich diet of information they crave? The point of an archive is, after all, to be able to make information (whether it be an image or the data that goes with it) available to the user, inside or outside of the financial institution.

If a customer makes a deposit through one of your ATM’s, does your research team have to find some key bit of data in the archive and then use that to search some other report to figure out which ATM was used? Or does the metadata that gets stored in your archive tell you which ATM the customer used right when the user views the check image? It could.

Do your business RDC clients get to see store number or driver number data when they look at their deposit records? They could. If an item failed an IQA test or was identified as a possible duplicate, do your Fraud or Research teams see that when they look at an item, or is the information tossed out by the time the metadata is passed to the archive? It doesn’t have to be.

Do you have to go to separate places to see the deposit information and the outgoing cash letter information for a transit check you took at a branch? Why such elaborate processes, when an archive can present the user with all they need to know, all in one place?

Take a minute to think about all of the information that you learn about a check between the time it is presented to you and the time you collect it, whether internally or through exchange. If you want to, you could keep all those bits of data and store them in your archive. It’s true, they aren’t needed on the X9 files you send to your exchange partners. But for your own uses, that data can be a feast for your organization and your clients. If your current archive doesn’t give you all the things we talked about here (and more), perhaps you should be asking ‘Why?’.


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