Written Procedures – Why Should I Bother?

Amy Donaghue

By: Jennifer Kline, AAP, APRP, NCP, Director, Audit Services

As an EPCOR Auditor, I’m always requesting members to supply me with their written procedures. Instead of hovering over your shoulder to watch every step you do, it’s more conducive to see a document that precisely describes your duties and responsibilities. While I know it can be a tedious task to write down what may be instinctively known to you, others need to know what you do and how to do it without missing an important step. In fact, examiners have told me, “Your written procedures should be so well written that your organization’s President could do your job with no other assistance”. Now, that’s a huge task!

Years ago, when I was Deposit Operation Manager and asked by management to create written procedures for every job duty in the department, I can tell you that I was not on board initially and groaned at all the extra time it was going to take to put together procedures not only for me but for the entire department. Personally, I knew each job and made my own notes on how to complete tasks. Plus, I knew each of the 12 people in my department knew their jobs, had their own notes and had already cross-trained in other jobs. I thought we were fine! Little did I know that my attitude would change about the whole project.

The Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) project began for the entire organization. A standard SOP template (downloaded from Google and shared via Microsoft Word) with instructions was assigned. Defined requirements for our written procedures included:

  • Department Responsible – Job title responsible
  • Procedure Title
  • Date Prepared and by whom
  • Date Reviewed and by whom
  • The Purpose, The Scope
  • Procedures and Steps

It was stressed to everyone for the SOP to include the system or application used for the duty, specific report names and numbers and the tools needed to complete the procedures. Finally, we needed to number each step of the procedure. Each step would be a specific function of duty. Needless to say, the initial drafts from my staff had to be rewritten. There are so many things you just do automatically that you may not even think about when you’re first writing your SOP! For example, I wanted to see what and why the process was to code an Item as R02 instead of R03. I knew the answer and my staff did as well, but anyone new to the job or serving as a backup would not.

Annual review of written SOPs became standard and part of my team members’ annual goals and review process. Ever since, having detailed SOPs has been an essential tool in my banking and auditing career. They truly are an extremely helpful tool to manage risk and the tasks assigned.

There are also some instances where having updated, accurate and thorough SOPs are so vital, including:

  • When staff is asked to complete tasks they typically are not assigned.
    • Think of the summer months, for example. When many staff take vacation, SOPs are key to ensuring operations continue smoothly.
  • In the event of retirement.
    • There are many instances where a seasoned payments professional has handled certain tasks for so long that, upon their retirement, their predecessor is inexperienced. SOPs are a lifeline to help the new staff succeed and avoid discouragement.
  • Staff turnovers or promotions.
    • Unfortunately, we’re currently in “the great resignation” period. With many staff seeking opportunities elsewhere, or in the case of staff being promoted, SOPs allow for easier training.

I could go on and on about the importance and benefits of SOPs! So, the next time your auditor requests your written procedures, just smile and give the document a review. Is this process still current? Was a step added for dual control? And, if by some twist of fate, could your organization’s President effectively do your job?

If SOPs, or any other payments/business topics, are giving you heartburn consider reaching out to the experts for an audit or advisory service! Our expert team is here to assist you with any issue or concern your organization may have. Fill out our service request form or email us at advisoryservices@epcor.org for more information.