Is Your Records Management Program on the Money?

Topics: Store and Protect Information

The paperwork and compliance demands of financial transactions can burden your firm—especially if it’s lacking dedicated support staff. Get started now on an effective records management and secure shredding program for records storage, archiving and destruction.

DID YOU KNOW? The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) alone handed out $50 million in fines in 2009. It’s a reminder that noncompliance can ruin your reputation and severely affect your bottom line.

FAST FACT: 35 percent of respondents to an AIIM survey said their firm’s inability to manage electronic information has led to legal actions.

Here’s a pop quiz: For how long should people keep copies of their tax returns? How about canceled checks? Chances are, you don’t know, so you hold on to your own returns and checks until one day you just impulsively toss them all into the garbage.*

Believe it or not, many otherwise savvy but overburdened financial management and financial services firms react similarly to the deluge of paper records, e-records, email and even social media messages. Consider some of the findings from a 2010 Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) study, which the group commissioned to evaluate firms’ management of electronically stored information:

  • Only 57 percent of responding organizations said they were “more aware” or “much more aware” of records management risks to their businesses over time
  • Only 43 percent said they’ve integrated their organization’s records and information management policies
  • 31 percent cited their inability to maintain complete electronic information archives as an issue with regulatory authorities
  • 35 percent said this shortcoming factored into an ensuing court case

A lack of a concerted records management plan, especially one that includes solid, industry-specific records retention policies, can expose your firm to great risk. Your plan may just consist of stashing every bit and byte, then praying never to be asked for that one transaction statement from 2003 amid 27,500 pages of boxed and poorly indexed paper and a hopelessly unindexed collection of computer files and/or backup tapes.

The irony, of course, is that you probably could have destroyed half of that “archive” by now and maintained complete compliance. But if you’re still holding a document, it may be subject to discovery-even if it’s out of date. That’s why it’s better to protect only what you need and securely destroy the rest-whether it’s on paper, disk or tape.

Four-Step Your Firm to RM Efficiency

As if records management weren’t enough of an administrative patch of quicksand, new forms of business records, such as blogs, tweets and wikis, can make that patch much larger and deeper. This is why a streamlined records management program is more important than ever. A sound plan can reduce overhead, increase efficiency and satisfy compliance demands. What’s more, a well-designed plan can enhance your company’s ability to respond to a lawsuit or audit.

Consider following this four-step process to build your records and information management program:

Step 1: Whatcha got there? Take an inventory of your data. It’s really no different than cleaning your attic: It’s critical to know what you have, regardless of location or data format. Understanding your information is a big step toward efficient records management. This step alone can help reduce your data volume.

Step 2: Become “format blind”: Establish a single policy for electronic and paper records. Doing this helps you manage the information you store, in turn simplifying tracking and retrieval. Since information may be reused, creating and maintaining consistent processes cuts retrieval times. Without that, you’ll spend valuable staff hours foraging for data.

Step 3: Develop policies for all types of records. To achieve best-practice levels of compliance, your firm’s records management workflow should encompass governance files and both internal and external communications, among other types of data. And, of course, all policies should include stringent records retention and destruction directives. Train your colleagues in how to execute these policies.

Step 4: Destroy documents the right way. Secure media destruction, including shredding, is key to remaining compliant into the future. When it’s time to get rid of documents and data, you must do it the way that your state dictates or face fines and penalties. A trusted records management partner will handle it for you.

Employing sound processes creates opportunities to realize the benefits of better information management: cost savings, compliance and efficiency. Also, get a free consultation on your current program from one of our records management experts.

Who’s Your Partner?

With the ongoing explosion of data-plus the tricky navigation required by today’s complex regulatory environment-it pays (quite literally) to collaborate with an experienced information management specialist. A team of experts can help you identify, mitigate and, when possible, completely eliminate specific risks and inefficiencies.

In your business, information management best practices can mean the difference between your ultimate success and failure. When you acquire the right resources to manage this burden, you can keep doing what you do best while your partner manages the rest.

*Based on IRS audit provisions, it’s recommended that you retain tax records for seven years (however, fraudulent returns are subject to audit regardless of date); canceled checks can be kept anywhere from one year to permanently, depending upon the nature of the transaction.

And What About Social Media?

Financial services firms, which once resisted wading into social media waters, have now jumped in headfirst. This raises a host of new information management issues, including how to create and implement more effective archiving strategies. Where to start? Although the federal government hasn’t issued a Web 2.0 data policy, a recent study of Web usage by the National Archives and Records Administration, cited in a July 2011 Iron article, concluded that content created, delivered or managed within social media environments should be treated like other records when it comes to compliance standards.

Do you have questions about what Iron Mountain can do for your small business? Read additional Knowledge Center Small Business resources, or contact Iron Mountain’s Small Business team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services Small Business specialist who can address your specific challenges.

Related Content:

Get a Grip: A No-Nonsense Guide for Small Businesses

Caution! Detour Ahead: Steer Your Firm Away From Risky Storage Moves 

 Managing Records: Who's Leading the Charge?