The current economic conditions have made many banks and credit unions pause to make sure they do not misstep, but the truly innovative organizations are finding an environment to focus more clearly on their goals.

Take, for example, USAA Bank in San Antonio. They were the first bank to offer retail remote capture, and they currently have more than 150,000 active home users on the product. As reported by Susan Stellin in The New York Times, USAA Bank announced on August 9 that they have added an application to their mobile banking product that allows customers to deposit checks by taking a picture of both sides of the check and sending it to USAA for processing. Initially this will be a service for iPhone customers, or about 60% of their one million mobile banking customers; by the end of this year, however, the rest of their qualified customers will have the tool. They have about 14% of their more than seven million customers using mobile banking within two years of launch.

While USAA has only one branch, it is enabling their customers to bank without the physical plant. To put this in perspective for bankers with an extensive branch network, more than 50% of branch transactions are commercial or consumer deposits, and an additional 20% are split deposits (with cash back). Think of the cost and service improvements to the innovative banks that closely follow.

BBVA Compass is redesigning its delivery of services using BBVA Compass Virtual Banker, a fully interactive, high-end video-conferencing platform. The product will allow BBVA Compass to offer specialized one-on-one services (such as mortgages and investment advice) directly to any branch, regardless of the banker’s location. Integrated document sharing functionality allows the banker to simultaneously exchange documents and brochures on screen with the customer, send documents to the printer at the customer's station in the branch, and retrieve signed documents using an integrated scanner. The program was scheduled to be launched by end of summer 2009 for the wealth management group and the mortgage banking functions. Again, the ability to deliver consistency in documents, message, and delivery can be accomplished through innovative integration. This will drive down the cost of branch errors and will eventually deliver a full array of interactive products at a lower cost of delivery to BBVA Compass’ nearly 600 branches in the Sun Belt.

Other banks are incorporating process innovations. Zions Bank made technological improvements to its online account application process to improve the quality of the account opening process and to reduce cost. In addition to achieving service and cost goals, the bank increased its online loan application completion rate by 74%, while online deposits increased by 25% year over year.

It is not just the big banks—like Wells Fargo with foreign exchange online or JPMorgan Chase with their event workstation or US Bank with Visa payWave—that have taken innovative approaches. We have seen many community banks, including Umpqua and its Innovation Lab, point to what the rest of the creative banking community can accomplish.

Process innovation—focusing on People, Process, and Technology—is helping banks advance customer interactions at a lower cost of delivery. The pioneers create a path for future innovations by contemplating what is ideal for their customers and designing it, even if current technology does not allow for execution. It positions them for advancement when technology catches up.