Digital-Forward Banking: A Conversation With Sandra Bell From M&T Bank

Every transformation story has a hero. At M&T Bank, that person is Sandra Bell, who’s led several digital initiatives to keep services flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sandra brings over two decades of experience to the top 20 financial services organization—with a résumé that includes dozens of large-scale IT projects for the Fortune 500. 

Meet Sandra

Sandra Bell, M&T Bank

At M&T, Sandra played a big role in expanding DocuSign Agreement Cloud bank-wide as branch operations came to a sudden halt during the pandemic.

We talked to her about M&T’s digital-forward strategy, building an effective Center of Excellence and the bank’s experience being among the first to adopt DocuSign’s remote online notarization solution, DocuSign Notary, in select markets.

Digital transformation is on everyone’s mind now. Why is it important to your business? 

Our customers’ time is valuable. It's essential that we provide banking services and tools that make it easy for them to interact with us throughout their journey with the bank—so everything from bringing on a customer for the first time to maybe helping that customer start or grow a business, and, as they get older or retire, providing wealth management services. We’re looking to digitize to create a better, faster, more consistent customer experience. DocuSign is part of a suite of solutions that’s helping us achieve that.

How was your transformation roadmap affected or shaped by the pandemic?

It was highly driven and accelerated by COVID. We needed to keep our doors open for our customers—and in some cases, using digital tools like DocuSign was the best way for customers to do business with the bank. During this time, it was really important for our business and commercial customers to be able to apply for new accounts and loans and turn them around quickly. We were able to speed up the process with DocuSign—and we got a lot of positive feedback from our customers related to that.

You started with DocuSign eSignature in HR and moved to other business units over the past year and a half. Can you describe this expansion into other departments? 

When we first started to expand eSignature to other parts of the bank, we prioritized the most urgent cases because we wanted to do it right. We started out with about 40 use cases, and now we have over 200 that span across HR, wealth management, commercial banking, retail banking and mortgage lending. We’re now in the fifth phase of our roadmap, adding new features and functions for our customers, including implementing DocuSign ID Verification in situations where Know Your Customer rules apply.

The main reason we were able to expand so quickly is because people have seen the success. A lot of it has been fueled by sharing through our Center of Excellence, people cross-pollinating ideas with one another and driving growth in their own areas.

Tell us about your Center of Excellence. How have you managed that at M&T?

Our Center of Excellence consists of key stakeholders from across the organization—mostly managers and customer service leaders—who help prioritize use cases and provide guidance in terms of implementing them. We meet every two weeks and present at least one ROI use case per month. Sometimes there’s not a tremendous immediate cost savings, but we’ve significantly improved the experience for customers and employees. Other times, there may be a six-to-seven figure cost savings. In those situations, the business leader who implemented the use case does a presentation for the management board and C-level executives, becoming a hero for that line of business. It’s really helped drive adoption across the organization. 

How do you go about prioritizing use cases?

One of the things that our bank does when we're going to invest money in digitizing a process is an ROI assessment. We look at several things: How does this digitization improve the ease of doing business and the customer experience? How can it speed up the process and make things more efficient for internal teams? We also look at compliance: What are some additional controls we can take advantage of to improve compliance and mitigate risk?

What are some of your favorite success stories?

We’re seeing high ROI on a complex account opening process that requires a lot of vetting. Collecting the different documentation and identification we needed was a huge bottleneck. It was a multi-step process that took several weeks and required customers to come into the branch, show their ID and sign the final contract. Using eSignature along with ID Verification for remote verification really accelerated the process. We’re saving $17 per document, and our customers get a guided, straightforward digital experience. Internally, our productivity went up since we reduced the time to manage and distribute forms from an hour to 25 minutes.

Another case where we’ve seen a major improvement is turnaround time on getting the documentation we need from employees using company cars. It was a nightmare trying to collect it all by the deadline because these employees don’t have easy access to a printer or scanner. They’re out visiting customers. By digitizing the process, we made it easy for employees to upload the information we need from their mobile device. With eSignature’s Bulk Send feature, we were able to send the document to hundreds of employees at once, using tags to indicate the specific documentation they need to submit. As a result, we went from waiting months to getting the majority of forms back within 48 hours.

As a bank, M&T must notarize a lot of documents for various use cases. What shaped the decision to adopt DocuSign Notary?

Yes, there are lots of internal bank documents that require notarization. But there are many other external documents—lien waivers and affidavits, for example—that customers could always count on our branch notaries to notarize these for them. When COVID hit, we needed a way for customers to get documents notarized without coming into a physical branch. When we found out DocuSign was offering a remote online notarization solution, that was very interesting to us. Not only is it a reliable and secure platform, but DocuSign Notary also provides an experience that’s already familiar to our customers and bankers who use eSignature. DocuSign Notary was just a natural evolution to our digital transformation, enabling our notaries to perform fully remote and electronic notarizations in states that allow it.

Which features are you most excited about in DocuSign Notary?

I really love how it combines multiple identity verification methods into one seamless experience for the customer—checking their government ID with ID Verification and asking challenge questions through knowledge-based authentication prior to signers entering the audio-visual notarial session. It helps make the verification more rigorous and compliant, yet the experience is still very smooth.

Once people start coming back into the branches, how will that change the way you plan to use DocuSign Notary and other solutions?

People have gotten used to doing things digitally—and some prefer it that way. So, I don't think it would be a great idea to take any digital services away. We should leave it up to our customers. When they want to have an in-person experience, we’re certainly delighted to provide that. But if they can't get to a branch—or they simply don't want to make an in-person appointment for a notary process or to verify their identity for an account opening—they can use DocuSign. We've gotten to the point where notarizing a document remotely with DocuSign Notary only takes about 5-7 minutes. It provides a better experience for our customers because they can do it from the comfort of their homes, and it also saves time for our employees.  

What’s next? How do you see yourself continuing to grow with DocuSign?

DocuSign has been able to keep our business—and keep us excited about using new products—because they've been a very good and responsive partner. I’m excited to see the improvements DocuSign is making for identity verification and some of the advanced signature capabilities that will give us more flexibility for transactions that have different levels of risk or complexity. I imagine that we will continue to expand our use and find more ways to take advantage of it. 

Read more about how M&T bank is bringing greater speed, security and convenience to banking. You can also learn more about M&T Bank’s ROI assessment process from Sandra in this webinar