By Martin Cheek, Managing Director, SmartSearch

One of the biggest distinctions businesses have to make is whether they’re being busy or being productive. Even the leanest of businesses can get so caught up in the day-to-day, they become blind to potential inefficiencies, whether it’s unnecessary meetings, legacy technology and equipment or outdated manual processes.

While the past two years have forced many businesses to adapt and update with remote working and virtual appointments, those outdated manual processes remain prevalent – especially during customer onboarding.

In fact, as part of our recent electronic verification (EV) survey, we asked decision makers at 500 regulated firms across legal, finance and property how they verify new business customers.

A quarter of respondents said they solely rely on manual checks of hard-copy documents such as passports, driving licences and utility bills. Furthermore, just over 23% of respondents said they use a mix of both manual and electronic methods, meaning almost half of all respondents still rely in some way on physical documents.

Wasting business time

An over-reliance on hard copies can be a tremendous drain on time and resources. Of the firms we questioned, many admitted it can take them days or even weeks to process documents – depending on transit and response times.

More than half (58%) said the process could take from two days up to seven days, while one in eight firms (12%) said checking documents could take them longer than a week.

With research suggesting many firms are expecting their regulatory burden to increase over the next 12 months, can businesses really afford to waste such valuable time? That’s especially true when the same research by Reuters reveals 61% of firms expect their teams to stay the same size.

Running the gauntlet

It not just a case of physical documents taking longer to process and verify. The likes of passports and ID cards are among the most forged documents in the world. There’s no question criminals have got slicker with fakes and forgeries becoming much more sophisticated and harder to spot.

By its own admission, the home office identified 24 failure points on official documentation, many of which require vast knowledge and an expert eye to detect. It’s no wonder only a third of respondents in our EV survey felt confident to be able to identify a fake.

Going digital

The unreliable, inefficient nature of manual checks is one of the many reasons why the 2020 Money Laundering and Terrorist Finance Act recommends that regulated firms switch to EV.

Not only is it much more accurate thanks to advanced AI and biometrics, but it’s much faster too. Using EV, a system like SmartSearch can complete hundreds of checks in just a matter of seconds. That includes checking against multiple credit reference agencies.

Digital onboarding not only becomes a way to ensure a compliant culture – a key factor regulators are looking for, but it helps provide a clear competitive advantage. Plus, with real-time monitoring and enhanced due diligence, firms are aware of potential red flags throughout the customer’s journey, rather than just at sign-up.

This feature, along with high-risk country reporting is absolutely vital in the current climate, allowing businesses to identify exposed persons and navigate the growing number of sanctions introduced following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.