A Process of Continuous Improvement

Transaction Banking
16.04.2024 by Thomas Schmid Reading time: 6 minute(s)

Focus is paramount in business operations if you want to optimize processes in a targeted, continuous manner. An agile working method and a keen eye on low-hanging fruit complete the whole approach.


Author: Thomas Schmid

Thomas Schmid heads the Processing Management department in the Transaction Banking unit at Vontobel. He is responsible for transactions, services, enhancements, and innovations in the securities and payments area. This includes all post-trading, master data, crypto custody, payment transactions, liquidity management, and business analysis.


With digitalization, the rise of automation, and increasingly stringent regulatory requirements, operations has grown in importance in recent years, becoming a key element in the way banks do business today. Operating in the current environment means dealing with considerable levels of uncertainty, volatile markets, high volumes, and constantly changing demands on processes and employees. At the same time, the demand for quality remains high and cost sensitivity is still a hot topic. Considering all these factors means we are constantly forced to question the status quo.

Ultimately, processes need to run smoothly and to a high standard. Why do we still need to work on and invest in processes? Banks react in various ways to the challenge of making operational processes sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective while keeping development costs down.

It is precisely this issue that separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to operations. The key to success in business operations lies in having the courage to question established processes, accept risks, and make targeted investments. Our approach to processes is clear: they must be designed to enable processing on a daily basis and ensure quality in the event of massive fluctuations in volume. That doesn’t mean waiting until there’s a drop-off in quality or a potential loss case – by then, it’s already too late.


«The goal is not to stick with continuity and what we already have, but to break away from all that and find new, more efficient ways.»

Thomas Schmid
Head of Processing Management



We recognize that operational excellence is seen as the ability to continuously optimize core processes along the value chain in terms of their effectiveness and efficiency. Operational excellence is a kind of philosophy, one that enables processes and structures to be developed steadily and across the board. The goal must always be to embed a permanent will to change and a drive to achieve even better quality in your operations, and live by this every day. Organizations have to go through a long, intensive process to achieve this.

In principle, automation means fewer routine tasks for employees and entails a shift in roles and an expansion of skills. Automation makes processes faster and more efficient and reduces the number of errors resulting from manual tasks. It also gives us the freedom to become even better at what we do. That’s why our focus is on monitoring processes, identifying risks, analyzing our data, and, ultimately, continuous development.


«Automation gives us more room for developments and innovations – if we don’t go through this cycle, we won’t improve.»

Thomas Schmid
Head of Processing Management


Can we achieve operational excellence in business operations if our day-to-day business always takes top priority? Is it feasible to free up enough time and capacity to keep other issues moving forward? Weren’t there a few very good, innovative ideas in the past that we just didn’t get around to implementing? Didn’t we always end up taking the easy route because of the high workload? The experience of the last few years has shown us that while an Operations department made up of only specialist units is feasible and can function well, it will never outperform a Business Operations department with a permanent will to change. To achieve this, you need a targeted structure and a solid foundation.

After careful consideration, we used the questions above as triggers to adapt our structure and organized a part of the staff into a new Processing Development team. This enabled us to lay the foundations for permanent change and create an exciting new range of tasks at the same time. In their new role, our three business analysts will be at the heart of developments and innovations in securities, payment transactions, and master data management. This makes the team an important interface and hub between the specialist team, IT development, and the project team.

The role of a business analyst is nothing new, and larger banks already employ people in this area. What matters is how and in what context business analysts are deployed. Five important elements have emerged over the past few years, providing us with the following key takeaways:


Make more room for development and innovation

The demands of day-to-day business restrict our ability to innovate and optimize. We need to make room for this in a structural sense and give employees a degree of freedom.

Day-to-day business will always take top priority for everyone, and we have to recognize that. In general, it tends to limit the scope for developments and innovations that will open new doors to exciting activities for employees. That’s why I’m convinced that dedicated business analysts generate considerable added value in the short, medium, and long term.


More agility, less bureaucracy

There’s a lot to be said for an agile approach based on trial and error. You need to be bold when implementing your ideas and make sure you draw the right conclusions from your mistakes. That’s why it’s important for us to ensure we have a fallback plan in place for all developments as part of our trial-and-error approach, so we can react quickly in the event of any negative consequences. It encourages us to remain agile with our developments and means we don’t waste time in unnecessary meetings or resources on testing.


Getting your priorities right is crucial

Priorities change all the time. There are countless influencing factors at work here, both in-house and in the financial center. A development may take top priority today only to be downgraded tomorrow. As such, personal responsibility, common sense, and agile thinking are more important than any prioritization meeting. Instead of constantly trying to prioritize, we should be pragmatic and use our common sense to decide what to tackle now and what we can deal with later.


Be more targeted in selecting low-hanging fruit

It doesn’t always have to be the big developments. People are often guilty of underestimating and overlooking where low-hanging fruit actually is. By low-hanging fruit, we mean simple work steps that can be optimized with minimal effort and will quickly save us time. Because we all have our daily routines and more than enough to do, we tend to overlook these simple optimizations. Yet a fresh pair of eyes can recognize those work steps, assess them independently, and optimize them – and that’s where business analysts come in.


Know your orders – a key, underestimated concept in operations

Are we aware of our transactions, and do we understand them? This is an essential question when it comes to analyzing processes, identifying anomalies, and drawing conclusions. Until now, our analyses have been restricted to well-known KPIs such as error rate and degree of automation. However, the exciting, valuable insights lie in the details of the transactions. Only by being aware of and understanding our transaction flows and the various statuses of our transactions can we identify anomalies and draw conclusions. When it comes to data analytics in Operations, it makes sense to tackle this in a focused way with our business analysts and work out the appropriate means and tools for the analysis.


Even if you only manage to implement some of the points above, you will still have achieved a great deal. Employees should always be at the center of organizational developments, and ensuring everyone in your unit has the requisite expertise remains a major challenge. With our new Processing Development team, we can reduce the risk of expertise not being shared among employees. However, there is a risk that exciting topics will eventually be taken out of the team’s hands, and we need to devote a lot of time and effort to ensuring this does not happen. The new team was created to support our other teams, not to replace them outright in matters concerning development. Business teams are still expected to drive and implement developments and analyses.


«The new team makes the work we do in our department more exciting – this is a great opportunity to work together to implement solutions more quickly and successfully.»

Thomas Schmid
Head of Processing Management


Operations is the Bank’s engine room. We need an efficient, innovative, future-oriented Operations department – and the right culture and the best employees – to create added value for our Bank and our clients. The human factor plays a crucial role here. With its team of business analysts, Processing Development enables us to manage day-to-day business in a focused manner, optimize processes continuously, identify trends, be flexible in responding to requirements, implement solutions quickly, and provide clients with optimal, high-quality services. We actively encourage a culture of continuous optimization for the benefit of our clients – and focus is the basis for innovation.


Graphic 1: A process of continuous improvement.