Seeking Solutions, Pushing Banks for Change on Signer Management

By February 21, 2024No Comments

As NeuGroup members unite to lobby banks, digital signer portals from Citi and J.P. Morgan create buzz.

Frustration with the inefficiencies of tracking and updating signers on bank accounts has pushed some members of NeuGroup for Global Cash and Banking to form a subgroup to present a united front in asking banks for digital solutions and standards that will provide real-time visibility to signer data (Step 1) and, ideally, make it possible for that data to flow directly into treasury management systems (TMSs) and other corporate databases (Step 2).

  • “How can we collectively tell the banks we’re done waiting for this to get handled over the next 10 years, and to put the resources to it?” one member asked during a December session. “I’d rather have banks focus on that in the near future, rather than talk about AI.”
  • The good news is that some banks, including Citi and J.P. Morgan, are in different stages of offering digital signer portals and platforms to corporates. Members participating in rollouts of these solutions are sharing information on their capabilities and the experience of working with the banks to improve the offerings.
  • NeuGroup is committed to facilitating dialogue between banks and corporates to address this and other issues with electronic bank account management (eBAM). Existing NeuGroup members who are interested in participating or getting more information can reach out to peer group leader Julie Zawacki-Lucci via email.

Signer pain. A key frustration for treasury teams responsible for BAM is the time-consuming, manual nature of confirming with banks the names of signers on what can be thousands of accounts at dozens of banks spread across the globe—information needed for external audits, SOX compliance, fraud prevention and other reasons. Members also describe sending endless emails to obtain data and correct inaccuracies in bank records that have not been properly updated.

  • “It’s frustrating managing an Excel spreadsheet and trying to keep up,” one member said. Another agreed: “Even knowing who your signers are at any given point—the annual process is painful.” She added, “Today, if I needed to get reports on all those who have portal access across our banks, there are reports and visibility into users and accounts that I can run and see. My position is that the banks should have signatories set up in a similar manner.”
  • One factor that has inhibited progress, members said, is that many banks don’t have fast, digital access to signer information and documents. “Banks are telling us they also grew through acquisitions and are trying to consolidate systems on their end as well to gather that data,” one member said. “Even on their back end, it didn’t seem like there was an automated process they have for tracking signers,” another added.

Citi’s digital solution. One member at the December session told peers about what Citi calls its Digital Signer Management program that sits inside CitiDirect, the bank’s global, digital banking platform. “This new portal will allow us to see our signers that Citi has on file currently and, when we need to, we can use it to launch and initiate a signer update,” she said.

  • Citi confirmed to NeuGroup Insights that its portal gives clients the ability to maintain signer information and submit documentation online globally. The bank reviews changes and performs automated signer maintenance in a global, centralized signer database. Clients have access to real-time reporting to view signer details and create on-demand signer summary reports.
  • Citi’s work on the signer solution started three years ago and required combining local repositories of signer information and documents into one, global, digital repository to create “one source of truth,” said Magdalena Mielcarz, Global Head of Onboarding-Platforms & Data Services. This allows a treasury team to have visibility through the portal of all of their signers in multiple branches or countries, eliminating the need to ask the bank for signer summary reports.
  • The NeuGroup member whose company is now using Citi’s Digital Signer Management program is one of more than 300 corporates that Citi has invited to use the solution, which now covers bank accounts in 44 of the 95 countries where Citi has on-the-ground presence.
  • The companies invited so far have a majority of their accounts in those 44 countries. Citi, which went live with the offering in June 2023, will “start opening the gates a lot more this year” as it plans to add more countries, according to Ms. Mielcarz.
  • Julie Betts, a Citi director who has played a key role in the bank’s digital onboarding and Digital Signer Management program development, elaborated on the advantage the signer program provides, for example, when updating a person’s signing authority in multiple locations, formerly a decentralized, prolonged process.
  • “Now, this solution allows our clients to update one or more signers in multiple locations through a single, digitally initiated request; this allows Citi to make the requested changes at a personal level, instead of on an account-by-account basis,” she said.
    • “So if you’re updating Sally and she’s left the company and Jane is taking over, we allow the client to do that as one activity instead of having to go to 44 different countries. So that’s a huge, fundamental change from a client perspective in how they manage signer updates today.”

Working with J.P. Morgan. One member of the global cash and banking group told peers about her company’s use of Authorized Signer, a solution offered by J.P. Morgan through its Access platform that she said “has been great” in the US. Her team worked with the bank extensively to address differences between signers listed in the portal and the company’s own records. Discrepancies have been resolved successfully and the portal “can help with FBAR reporting as well,” she said.

  • A J.P. Morgan spokesperson described the solution, launched in 2022, as “a self-service tool for clients to have visibility and reporting of account and entity signers, simplifying the process for treasury teams,” adding that it allows new clients to view and export their signatories for reporting and other purposes.
  • Access Authorized Signer is available to “all new clients and current clients are being migrated to the tool,” the spokesperson said. It’s being used in “several countries across North America, EMEA, APAC and LatAm.”
  • For the member using it, the solution is a significant improvement over what had been a very decentralized process that “was all in spreadsheets,” she said. The portal offers the visibility and centralization the member wanted. It does not currently enable updating signer data within the portal; but requesting updates through email is not a problem for her.
  • “It’s going to be great when all banks are offering” similar digital signing portals, she said. However, “having to log into each portal and run a report is still going to be time consuming.” Another member said, “What I don’t like is that you have to go through a portal.” That leads directly to the other major issue for corporates joining forces: the desire to have signer data flow from banks to their TMSs.

Step 2: Standardization, APIs and TMSs. Yet another member, commenting on the solutions offered by Citi and J.P. Morgan, said she was “happy there was some small movement in the right direction. I think it’s a good Step 1. Step 2 would be getting that information into whatever work station you’re working with,” meaning a TMS.

  • Most everyone agreed with that assessment. But they also said that will require banks to agree on standard file formats and to work with TMS vendors. “I’d rather this be bank agnostic,” one member said. “We need it in our databases.”
  • That won’t happen overnight. “Banks are not ready is what I’m hearing,” one member said. She added that her TMS vendor is “not set up in a way to take all of that data and do something with it. You almost have to push in both directions or else it doesn’t move.”
  • Pushing is exactly what the subgroup of the global cash and banking group will be doing in the weeks and months ahead, supported by NeuGroup. A draft list of priorities written this week includes: “Future Consideration—automatic transfer of data (via API) to TMS or other system to help us consolidate signers across various banks.”

Bank agnostic? Looking into bank-agnostic fintech solutions to relieve signer management pain is also on the agenda of some NeuGroup members. One member who saw a fintech demo its solution said, “it seemed like a great product.” But his company is using an eBAM tool offered by its TMS vendor. Another member said his company tries to create solutions on its own. “We typically choose to build over buy,” he said.

  • Whatever road corporates go down, one thing is clear, according to Ms. Zawacki-Lucci, the NeuGroup peer group leader: “The bottom line is that banks must digitize the signer information they have been warehousing in antiquated ways,” she said. “Where the technology for bank portals exists, it is unacceptable that the information isn’t readily available to managers of those accounts.”
Justin Jones

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