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Austrian Bank Finds RFID Yields Big Returns When Tracking Loan Files

After tagging 30,000 files during the past four years, Hypo Landesbank Vorarlberg estimates its RFID application has paid for itself 50 times over.
By Rhea Wessel
Mar 20, 2007An Austrian bank is using an RFID-based system to track the paper files it keeps on each loan it makes to customers. Hypo Landesbank Vorarlberg (HLV) has been using Thax Software's Findentity RFID-enabled tracking system for more than four years. It now has roughly 30,000 tagged files in circulation and in storage at the bank's headquarters in Bregenz, the capital of the Austrian state of Vorarlberg. The bank operates dozens of branches throughout Vorarlberg, as well as in Graz, Vienna and other major Austrian cities.

Peter Steffani, who works in the bank's IT department, says employees in the loan department lost several hours of time each day looking for individual loan files on colleagues' desks in neighboring offices. The bank relies on paper documents and cannot switch to electronic versions of these files since original papers must be notarized after a loan is approved and are reviewed by other parties, including the bank's reinsurance company. "People still want to see the paper," says Steffani.

Prior to the deployment of Thax's RFID file-tracking system, the bank's staff would wander from office to office, looking for files before they could begin their actual work. Steffani says the bank has never calculated the ROI on its investment into the system, but he estimates Findentity has already paid for itself more than 50 times over.

"If you took it away from them [the bank staff]," Steffani says, "they would be speechless. This was a quantum leap in organization."

Prior to the system's deployment, an HVL employee attended a trade fair at which Thax Software was exhibiting Findentity. The bank soon entered talks with Thax's owners, brothers Thorsten and Marc Bartsch. The financial services company decided to purchase a system in which an employee scans a file's tag upon taking possession of any paperwork. The computer system links the customer's name and account number with the unique ID of the passive read-only RFID tag attached to the outside of a file box or folder. The folder, made of thick paper, measures about 9 inches by 11 inches. Each tag is embedded in a plain unprinted white adhesive label.

To locate a customer's file, workers can walk to a computer terminal set up in the hallway or on their desks. Once a staff member types in the customer's account number, the Findentity software displays a map of the office and the location of the colleague who last interrogated the file’s tag. The employee can then walk to that colleague's office, retrieve the file and use an RFID interrogator to scan the file tag, updating the system with the latest location. If a worker is not one of the 32 with interrogators installed on their own desks, that person can scan the file at a central reader located in the same shared office, or in the hallway.

The interrogator contains an antenna shaped like a mouse pad. When a file or stack of files is moved across the reader pad, the system interrogates the RFID tag on each file using readers made by Feig Electronic. The tags operate at 13.56 MHz and conform to the ISO 15693 standard. The bank orders them in batches of 5,000 from Thax, which buys its tags from X-Ident.

In some cases, files must be stored for 30 to 40 years. Therefore, the bank is considering purchasing a hand reader so it can locate files that have been moved to remote storage for longer stays. Other departments of the bank, Steffani says, do not need the same RFID application because they can rely on electronic document filing systems.
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