Data Engineering

Transforming the Branch Audit Process


Large Retail and Commercial Bank




Data Engineering, Systems Development

The Story in 100 Words...

Our client is a high street bank with one of the largest retail estates in the UK. They hired us to build an audit and data solution that would improve data quality and integrity across marketing, regulatory and corporate collateral at point-of-sale. A cloud database sits at the core of our solution, supported by a purpose-built tablet app and AI-powered image recognition technology. Six years since implementation, our solution continues to yield impressive annual cost savings, support regulatory compliance, and deliver an excellent colleague experience.

Key Relationship Stats


Marketing positions tracked by our solution


Annual cost savings generated


Fewer support calls placed by branch staff

Relationship Highlights

Branch Blueprints

To keep track of which marketing materials are in each of the bank’s branches, we first created a data blueprint of every branch. We did this via a one-off physical survey using our tablet application. We surveyed every single branch, recording all 85,000+ positions where marketing materials could be displayed.

Simple, efficient branch audits

The branch blueprints told us what could be displayed in each branch. Next, we needed a reliable way of confirming what was really in each branch. We built a tablet application to enable fast, accurate audits of branches, including the ability to capture photographic evidence.

Data-Driven Print Orders

Our data blueprints save the bank money by eliminating print waste. Using the data blueprints as a guide, print orders are now accurate down to each individual item. No more approximations or one-size-fits-all print deliveries.

Better Colleague Experience

Along with bespoke print orders for each branch, our solution also generates unique fitting instructions. Now branch staff know exactly what print they’ve been sent and where everything goes. Staff feedback has been consistently excellent, and support calls to the print supplier are almost a thing of the past.

The service Optima provides is unmatched. The proactive determination they bring to keep innovating, adding value and improving how we do things is second to none."

Marketing Manager
Large Retail and Commercial Bank

Marketing Manager
Large Retail and Commercial Bank

The Full Story

Managing inventory in large retail networks is notoriously challenging. Central teams lack visibility of individual branch requirements, and are often forced to approximate how much print each branch actually needs. This leads to some branches receiving too much print, others receiving too little, and inflated costs from waste and expensive low-volume reprints.

Accuracy of marketing materials is doubly important in retail banking, where regulators such as the CMA and FSCS demand that branches present up-to-date information to customers. Banks that fail to meet regulatory standards can face heavy fines and unwanted media coverage.

To remain compliant with UK banking regulations, our client invests considerable sums of money performing audits of its branch network. These audits involve trained auditors visiting each of the bank's branches individually, checking the marketing materials on display – posters, leaflets and so on – and sending reports back to the head office team.

The audit process is time-consuming, expensive and produces a huge amount of audit data.

Before appointing Optima, our client used spreadsheets to manage the branch audit process. This created several challenges:

  1. Auditors used a single questionnaire to audit all branches, large or small. For smaller branches particularly, this meant that much of the questionnaire was redundant, leading to an inefficient and error-prone audit process.
  2. Auditors completed a new audit questionnaire for every branch, meaning that after each audit, the central team was swamped with hundreds of completed questionnaires.
  3. The central team had no easy way to collate or cross-reference the audit results. Branch managers received no feedback to correct errors, and the central team had no efficient means of viewing branch compliance at region- or network-level.

The bank realised that these issues could be drastically reduced or eliminated by creating a dynamic solution that provides a robust and reliable source of information that all users can trust.

In 2014, the bank hired Optima to help.


Step 1 - Creating Data Blueprints

Our first goal was to understand exactly what marketing materials each branch in the network was capable of displaying.

We started by conducting a physical survey of the bank's entire branch estate across the UK. To enable this, we built a tablet application and trained the surveying team to categorise every ‘marketing position’ and every ‘service position’. Window posters, leaflets stands, banking hall posters… we logged every single position in every branch, and categorised it by size, position and purpose.

Using our tablet application meant that all of this survey data flowed seamlessly into a purpose-built Microsoft Azure database. In total, the physical survey logged over 85,000 individual positions across the bank’s many hundreds of branches.

For the first time ever, the bank knew definitively what merchandising positions were available in each of its branches.

Outcome 1 - Accurate Print Orders

Our data blueprints immediately allowed the bank to stop over-ordering print. Rather than using approximations of what each branch needs, they could now place precise orders for every branch based on its exact print requirements.

This data-driven approach to ordering print has resulted in a direct cost saving to the bank of over £450,000 every year.

Outcome 2 – Branch Fitting Instructions

Before working with Optima, when branch managers received new marketing collateral to display, it was not always clear what and where the POS items should be displayed, particularly in the event of under or oversupply. This led to a raft of errors, such as items being displayed in the wrong places, items being missed, and hundreds of support calls being placed to the print supplier each week.

With our solution in place, whenever the bank sends new marketing materials to branches, our system automatically generates branch-specific merchandising instructions. These fitting instructions show the branches exactly where each item should be placed.

This method of supporting branch staff has been so effective that from the first time we provided these fitting instructions, support calls to the print supplier immediately dropped by over 98%.


Step 2 – Data-Driven Audits

The data blueprints also play a pivotal role in improving the branch audit process.

Before working with Optima, the bank’s branch audit team used a generic questionnaire. The questionnaire had to cater for all branches in the network and was therefore extremely complex and cumbersome to use in practice.

We simplified the audit process by developing a data-driven audit app. Our app creates a bespoke audit questionnaire for every branch, allowing the auditors to simply cross-reference what they see in branch against what should be in each position.

Our app’s audit function caters for all possibilities by accepting both manual and automated questions.

Manual questions typically take the form of a series of yes/no questions – such as “Is there a Customer Satisfaction poster displayed prominently on the front doors?” or “Can the branch manager provide you with a copy of a specific leaflet on request?”.

Automatic questions use the data blueprints to guide the auditor around the branch. At every marketing or service position, the auditor is shown a digital image (and the print code) of the item that should be in position. The auditor looks at what is actually in position, and simply marks “Yes” if the correct item is displayed in the correct place. If not, the app offers the auditor a series of options – such as “Incorrect item in position” or “Item missing” to capture accurate data around compliance. The app also requests that the auditor takes a photograph of the non-compliant position. The app automatically logs all photographs in the database for verification and reporting.


Outcome 3 - Reporting Dashboards

All audit data is automatically passed from the app to the central database. Here we collate information and provide the bank’s central team with simple dashboard reporting.

This lets our client team see results of the audits at-a-glance at national or regional level, with the option to drill down to individual branches, specific marketing positions and even the photographs of what was in them.

Now when the bank wants to know how compliant their network is, it’s as simple as opening the dashboard.

And most important of all, they can trust the compliance data that sits behind the dashboards.


Step 3 Branch Feedback

Given the complexity of the bank’s previous approach to the audit process, it was difficult – if not impossible – for the central team to provide audit feedback to each of the 1,500+ branches in the network. Where non-compliances were found during the audit process, there was no means of rectifying the issues, at speed.

With our system in place, non-compliances are automatically reported back to the branches within hours of the audit taking place.

This feedback comes complete with new fitting instructions for branch managers, showing them exactly what should be in each non-compliant position. This removes ambiguity and helps the bank make sure all of its branches are displaying the right things in the right places at the right time.

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