Embrace change, take risks, and disrupt yourself

Hosted by top 5 banking and fintech influencer, Jim Marous, Banking Transformed highlights the challenges facing the banking industry. Featuring some of the top minds in business, this podcast explores how financial institutions can prepare for the future of banking.

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Synovus Bank: The Journey to Become a Digital Bank

Becoming adept at digital banking is not simply about technology. It’s about the way banking leaders adapt to the pace of change and continually rethink how they can create and deliver value in a digital economy.

Most importantly, it is understanding that the digital banking transformation process is a never-ending journey … with no end point.

My guest on the Banking Transformed podcast is Liz Wolverton, Head of Consumer Banking and Brand Experience at Synovus. Liz shares how building the muscles for continuous change at Synovus allows the bank to adapt to future change more rapidly, which makes the bank more resilient.

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Jim Marous:
Hello, and welcome to Banking Transform, the top podcast in retail banking. I'm your host, Jim Marous, founder and CEO of the Digital Bank Report and co-publisher of The Financial Brand. Becoming adept at digital banking is not simply about technology. It's about the way banking leaders adapt to the pace of change and continually rethink how they can create and deliver value in a digital economy. More importantly, it's understanding that digital banking transformation process is a never ending journey without an end point. My guest in the banking transformed podcast is Liz Wolverton, head of consumer banking and brand experiences at Synovus. Liz shares how building the muscles for continuous change in Synovus allows the bank to adapt to future changes more rapidly, which makes the bank more resilient.

Jim Marous:
So welcome to show Liz. You know, when we first met during a webinar we did a little while ago, I was intrigued by the advancements that Synovus bank had been making in the digital banking arena. And more importantly, I was probably more impressed with your individual tenacity to break through the barriers that most banks in the 50 to a hundred billion dollar range are having and find very daunting. Before we dig into what Synovus is doing, can you give a little bit about your history and your 20 year career at Synovus and how your various roles prepared you for where you are today?

Liz Wolverton:
Yeah. Always makes me feel getting into the age bracket when you say 20 years. So, I never intended to be a banker. I happened upon banking kind of just by circumstance. And I tell people it's because of diabetes and open toed shoes, which is interesting, but my dad actually was in bad health for a long time and I wanted to move to Columbus to be near him and my family, and Synovus was a big company in Columbus. I didn't know much about Synovus at all. And I had a few interviews set up and I thought I'll entertain it because everybody keeps saying it's this great place to work, but it was bank. So I went in and I met a couple of people. It had a different energy when I went in the office and I really liked it and I didn't expect to feel that way.

Liz Wolverton:
It sort of was a courtesy visit. And I had a good couple of conversations, but then I started thinking that this is banking. Like, am I going to be constrained? And the first woman that walked out to meet me had a cute skirt and open-toed shoes. And I said, I think I might be able to fit in here. It's not as buttoned up as I thought, so that really led me in the company and the vibe, quite frankly, I felt it when I first interviewed, I thought I just really want to work here. And so I started at Synovus. I was a CPA. So I started as a [inaudible 00:03:19] interpretist writing accounting policy. And that does not sound like a place that leads you to where I am today. But the very first job I had was to implement this thing called Soxs. [inaudible 00:03:33] Oxley.

Liz Wolverton:
So I was new to banking, new to a company, and they said, Hey, we want you to write the controls for the company. And I thought, well, they're either desperate or maybe a little crazy, but it really was a what I call baptism by fire. I had to get in, I had to know the company, I had to meet a lot of people and I call that my first major opportunity. Some people would say it was not a phone opportunity, but it really was an opportunity to get in and know the company in a very different way than I ever would have before if I was just looking for the next [inaudible 00:04:06] putting that into accounting policy, and I met so many people and it sparked my interest in really the coolness of what banking is and can do in people's lives.

Liz Wolverton:
And that led me quickly to want to get engaged in other efforts outside of what I was doing day to day in the bank. And I think my willingness to do that and my willingness to sort of put in sweat equity on different projects, opened some doors to be involved in different things. So I went from this kind of microcosm of looking at accounting policy to really this broad perspective of looking at the bank. And I brought a different lens, right? I wasn't a banker. I questioned a lot of things, not in an accusatory way, sort of in a, why do we do that, kind of way. And why don't we look at it this way? And I was younger at the time and I wasn't real brazen, but I think it was a curiosity that was receptive to people.

Liz Wolverton:
And so that again, opened doors for me. In accounting, I was in natural part of a capital raise process and that capital raise process during 2008 to 2010, those were some tenuous times for us. I got in the trenches and I was able to get in the trenches with some of our executive team at the time. That was a tense time. And when you work in a tense time on some very important things for the company, you endear yourselves to each other. So again, I think that was an opportunity for me. I wasn't at the highest level there, but I was in it and I was 24/7 working with a team. And I think at that point in time, we had a couple of situations where things could have gone not so good.

Liz Wolverton:
And I think my feistiness came out and I think people looked at me and said, well, she's not just curious. Maybe she's got a little fight in her. And again, that opened some opportunities for me. And finally, I would say one of the most interesting opportunities I had most recently to expand the way I look at the bank, is to lead some of the inclusion and diversity efforts a few years ago. We didn't have a formal structure around that. We have always been a company with a great culture, very embracing, a culture of care, but that's not just what inclusion and diversity is. It's much more than that. It's stretching the thinking beyond that. And so when I was asked to lead the effort, I thought sort of like Sox, I don't really have any experience here, but I'll look at it strategically.

Liz Wolverton:
Why is it important? And I really studied that and studied how you can think about progressing that journey, which is both individual and the company. You have to work on both those things at the same time. And it taught me a lot about how I needed to be looking at our customers in a way I never have before. So, it's just this potpourri of all these different things, Jim, that have affected the way that I think about the business. It really affected my ability to have a voice in the business. Sweat equity, coming at it with the spirit of not in it for me in it for the progress of the company and the customers has allowed my voice to be heard, but we have a great company that has embraced that too. So, big potpourri.

Jim Marous:
You know, it is interesting Liz, because I've gotten to know you over the last four to six weeks, quite a bit. And seeing you look at different things with a new lens and one thing that's really impressive is, it is very obvious that you're not a person to settle, but you're not a person necessarily to blow through walls. You built consensus around your thought pattern and you just brought up a lot of the examples and why that happened in your career through Synovus. And it's interesting why you're being a change agent and why you've really tried to disrupt status quo in a legacy banking organization, and we can get into the whole gender situation as being a woman doing this is even more interesting in the dynamics, but what are some of the challenges that you've faced over the years? Not in a way that's negative, but what are some of the roadblocks you've seen and things that you've had to really deal with in this journey?

Liz Wolverton:
Yeah. I don't know that, and you would agree, you and I have talked about this. I don't know that they're unique to me or unique to gender in all reasons. Banking in general is an area that is a adverse to risk. It's an area that has had a very, very homogenous model over a long period of time. And like many industries it's populated at the highest ends with people that have been in the industry a long time where those things always were fruitful.

Liz Wolverton:
And so when you have somebody, not just me and by the way, I feel like I'm talking about me. I have a number of peers at the company that share similar philosophies, but when you introduce organisms into that business that say, Hey, I know that's always worked, but why don't we look at it this way? I think there's just always a challenge. So I would say the challenge that we've had as an industry, and so it's not unique to us, is just the fact that things that were the old way always worked and it wasn't until the crisis, I think that things really got shook up. Listen, I look at the fact that I giggle about the whole work from home and the remote and how introducing that concept was. It would've been a non-starter and then COVID hits and it's [inaudible 00:10:10].

Jim Marous:
It happens on Monday. Yeah.

Liz Wolverton:
It's the obvious thing to do. And so I look at things like the crisis that was a disruptor to the legacy thinking. I look at the fintechs and how they've come in and I don't think we've ever taken on this fear that they were going to drive us out of business, but an appreciation that they were going to shake up the way we needed to do things. So I think the biggest challenge I've had is the success in the past, which is silly, and what caused it and really this aversion to pace. So the aversion to pace in general, and I am not a patient person. I've probably been very frustrated at a number of times, again, not necessarily my current circumstances. There's the industry in general. I've been frustrated with the industry.

Jim Marous:
You know, it is interesting. You've been tasked with both strategy and customer experience for the past nine years at Synovus. How have you tried to differentiate your bank brand and the digital banking component of what Synovus offers in the marketplace?

Liz Wolverton:
That is a tough question because I would have to admittedly say that from a digital banking perspective, we are just scratching the surface at the opportunity to really differentiate. We've looked at it, as our chief digital officer, Zach Campbellton has a great sort of spectrum that he's level set. You've got to equalize, then you got to monetize, and then humanize and innovate. And we have, as a regional bank, been on the lower end of that scale. And I feel really good about where we are today. There's no apologies. We have a very good digital experience, but when it comes to how we look at that differently and blend that into the model to really differentiate, that's where we're scratching the surface right now. And I'm really excited about it. I think though, we have done some things really well in that we made a decision a handful of years ago that we had to move away from the old infrastructure, the dependency on the large vendor to control our digital experience.

Liz Wolverton:
And that was hard. It was hard because that was a risk. When you step out of that structure, you get enablement, but you take on responsibility. I now have to do these things we've never done as a bank before. I have to take charge of how I really want to imagine that experience. I have to actually hire and be able to care for different components of that, that were fully vendor before. That costs money. You have to convince people that the money is worth the reward. And by the way, most of what I do doesn't have a perfectly timed impact to the investment. This is a business model change that is about current profitability, but it's really about long term sustainability. And you've got to get people to buy into that. And I think what we've done differently, not necessarily completely in the market as of yet, but to prepare ourselves is that we believe that.

Liz Wolverton:
And we've got the buy in there to take the right steps to do things like, yes, let's move off into this not fully vended environment with these vendors that aren't really perfect yet. They don't really check all your boxes and then take some bets. Do things like, yes, Liz, we're going to go out and build analytics. We don't know a lot about it and how to build that infrastructure today, but we believe in it and let's figure it out. That sort of, let's do this without all the answers mentality is not always welcomed within a banking environment. And so when you say, how do we differentiate? I think driving that mindset and being willing to take very manageable risks is something that we've done differently.

Jim Marous:
It's interesting because you talk about the fact that moving a company and trying to make sure you're doing things at speed and scale, in many cases means moving away from your primary platform provider. And that's difficult sometimes to sell that internally where you're actually, in many cases, selling something internally that's taking it away from your core provider while your core provider keeps on saying they can do it. That takes a leap of faith. And it takes somebody to really manage and spearhead that engagement because, the core providers can honestly do almost anything that any of these, what I'll call secondary legacy solution providers can do, but just not as well. Not at scale, not at speed, and probably not giving you the attention that you deserve to get to where you want to go.

Jim Marous:
So, I know that part of your digital journey has been to close branches and this is a process that almost every financial institution is going through right now, but, the process of doing it, the process of balancing what the government's going to allow you to do, and what the consumer wants you to do, and what the organization has to do, really ends up being not a very stable three-legged stool. So you're in the middle of that process at Synovus. How do you tackle this process with customers and how do you tackle this process with your employees?

Liz Wolverton:
Again, it's not easy, right? I think you and I have talked about it too, maybe the first week I was in the job, they announced my move to head consumer banking. And at the Goldman Sachs conference, Kevin Blair, our CEO, announced that we were going to close 15% of our branches. And then I think there was an article that ran in the American Banker that kind of combined those two things. And so I had to own that on day one, which I do. What my job for the team, so I had a mid-year all team update yesterday. And in that update, I talked about what we've done the first half of the year and the second half of the year. And the second half of the year, we're going to have to do some major branch contraption.

Liz Wolverton:
My job to those teams is to sell their value in the business model going forward. And it's not to sort of blindfold and say, Hey, forget about this that's going on, but it's create the North Star so that they go, wow, we're really excited about that. And by the way, the thing that makes it easier for me is every person that sits in one of those branches that's going to be contracted, has an opportunity within Synovus in today's environment. So one would say, Hey, Liz, you're being asked to contract more than y'all have in the past, but I have more opportunity than we've ever had. With a remote environment I can distribute this workforce that is uber valuable. They are awesome customer service folks, by the way, bragging point, JD Power. Look at our scores. Top, top of the class. You know who that is?

Liz Wolverton:
It's an individual sitting within my branch network. I do not want to lose those individuals. They can go in our call center, they can go into operations. I sat in a strategic planning session with our other lines of business yesterday and to a person they all said, I want your list of people because I need them in my organization. And so that's exciting. When could you ever tell a teller before, you actually have opportunity in about six different areas in service if you want to take them up on it. So, I genuinely am excited about that for them, for us as a company. What does it do when you take somebody that's been in the front line of retail and put them in another area? It actually expands and unifies the company in a different way as well.

Liz Wolverton:
So, I talk to them just like I'm talking to you right now. And I must have gotten 10 emails after that call about, wow, and not one person said anything about, I can't believe we're doing X, Y, Z. It was, I am so excited about where the consumer bank is going, because it really is opportunistic. Now for our customers, it's different. The customers worry, quite frankly, as much about the team members as they do about themselves.

Jim Marous:
Yep. Yeah.

Liz Wolverton:
When we close branches, our complaint line is filled with what's going to happen to so and so that is my day in day out person. A, obviously I can reassure them about that, but with our customers, we have to, a, transition them as best as possible. The physical location transition, but the big thing we're concentrated on now is why are 50% of our account holders not adopting digital? And how do we show them the benefits.

Liz Wolverton:
You've asked me before, how do you get your branch team to buy into being digital ambassadors if it's replacing them? I used an analogy yesterday on the call and I said this, I said, so if you have your customer that's valuable to you that you know isn't just flush with cash. And every now and then has an NSF, has an insufficient funds. If they have that today, and they're not in touch with, to digital, how can I contact them? It's going to go to operations. Operation's going to print a statement in today's USPS, God love them. It's going to take a week for it to get there. They could over draw three more times. If they had the digital application, as soon as that happens, I could alert them and a, which prevents other issues.

Liz Wolverton:
But two, shows them in a different way, proactively, how important it is for me that they're taking care of their financial health. And that resonates with our team members because when they see it as something that I'm pushing on the customers and pushing on customers that want to adopt, it's almost like reject it. They want what their customer wants. When I help to explain how it's beneficial to them, they embrace it. They really do. So, those are some of the ways Jim, that I'm just trying to shift the mindset. It always starts with a mindset. Always starts with a mindset.

Jim Marous:
You know, it's interesting. You've actually, and I've not had this happen in previous interviews around this subject, closing branches, make employees feel comfortable. And it just hit me that a big element that you just discussed is that your employees, your teller staff, your branch staff, your employees in other departments, trust you and trust the bank. That doesn't always happen. Almost every bank is going to say, yes, we're going to be closing this, going to be closing these areas. We're going to be doing this. And, oh, by the way, there'll be very minimal change in staff. And the staff immediately goes, BS. That's bullshit. And basically, I don't trust my bank to have my best interest in mind. Just from your story about your meeting with your team, it's very clear they trust you and they trust the organization to truly have the opportunities that you're speaking of. That they won't lose their jobs and they shouldn't lose their jobs.

Jim Marous:
And it's a matter of us training them to be capable, but that quickly transcends to the customer relationship where they will willingly say, you know what? This is a great deal. It's going to be better for you, even though you're going to lose your local team, I'm still going to have my job. I'm still going to be able to help you in some way, shape, or form. And the bank's got your best interest in mind. This is just a better way of doing banking. It really gets down to trust. And it's interesting because we don't talk about that much about trust within an organization that the organization has my best interest in mind, but that makes a huge difference. And as I mentioned, that obviously transcends to the customer directly, because they're going to go, I'm going to be okay because my direct contact's going to be okay.

Liz Wolverton:
Exactly.

Jim Marous:
We forget about the fact that the people that actually visit branches, I think about my dad who's passed quite a while ago, but he would still be using branches because of the teller. Because he knew that person, the man or the woman, and he knew the manager. And to be able to convince him that by the way, you may have to not have the social interactive action that you want, but everything else can be good, is a pretty good feeling.

Jim Marous:
You talked about the digital products and about the digital applications. I've written quite a bit lately about the difference between allowing customers to access their account on digital channels and actually creating a better digital experience. I call it faking digital, where we say, yes, you can open an account on a mobile device or on your computer. Oh, but by the way, it's going to take 15 minutes. While I give them digital capabilities, I really haven't given them a way to do things digitally and it's made it very cumbersome. How is Synovus addressing this challenge and what is going to set Synovus apart from other legacy and digital banks with regard to how you do things digitally in a digital manner?

Liz Wolverton:
Yeah. You and I are very aligned that it's not about taking a task and then making it technical.

Jim Marous:
Making a PDF.

Liz Wolverton:
Making a PDF. It's not about saying, okay, let me look at the playbook for somebody that comes into the branch and does something. And let me just mimic that. It's about really understanding. It's so basic. It's about understanding what the customer is trying to accomplish, which may be not at all what they're doing in the branch. It may be something completely different that you need to take care of. Right? We've had to situate things a certain way in a branch because it's a physical environment, because there's teller lines, because of all sorts of things. You can reimagine that potentially in the digital experience. We may have said it has to go from this drawer, to this drawer, to this drawer. So you have to go from this line, to this line, to this line.

Liz Wolverton:
So instead of creating three boxes online, what's the destination and what am I trying to do? And it's so funny. Early on, I think people were trying to just create the three boxes and make sure that you could go from box, to box, to box. So, I do believe that we have a good... We have two things that are important. One is customer centricity. It is about the customer and about what the customer's trying to do and what they need. And it's not necessarily about the task. We look beyond that when we're thinking about digital. So that in itself is important like I just talked about.

Liz Wolverton:
And two is we have a business model view. I don't need to digitize everything. What am I trying to achieve from a business model perspective? And what are those things that are most imperative? You and I have talked about, I hate the term digital transformation. Digital is really just completely integrated into your business model. So I think instead of looking at just features in a Harvey ball chart of what you have versus others, look at what you're trying to deliver, how you're trying to deliver in what they need, and let your digital journey and evolution kind of revolve around that. That all sounded very consultancy. So I'm not sure if that resonated Jim, but it's not about the thing. It's bigger than the thing.

Jim Marous:
So let's take a break here and recognize the sponsor of this podcast.

Jim Marous:
So welcome back to the Banking Transformed. So I'm joined today by Liz Wolverton, head of consumer banking and brand experience at Synovus. We've been discussing how a $60 billion bank can effectively compete with banking goliaths and with the new FinTech stalwarts. So Liz, we've been discussing your personal journey and the introduction to digital banking within Synovus. How do you measure success around customer experience, engagement, and satisfaction across different channels?

Liz Wolverton:
So, we have some of the legacy tools that we use today from a service standpoint. JD Power obviously is a very important mechanism for us to test the temperature, but it only happens once a year. So we use internal surveys to measure customer sentiment. But beyond that, those are good. I don't want to discount those because they're important and they tell us a lot of good information, but we obviously look at the data. We look at who's using what. We look at the depth of engagement that individuals have with digital. And we're just now Jim, really getting our act together. And I say that because it's hard in banks to get data and to synthesize the data. But we're beginning to look better behaviorally based on profiles and personas of individuals that tell us things, just that what I call the superficial kind of tick marks don't tell you.

Liz Wolverton:
And we are early in that. But what I can tell you is just getting sort of this appetizer for it, maybe since I'm back from Paris, the [foreign language 00:28:00]. Getting that [foreign language 00:28:02] tells me how important it is to understand and much more behaviorally and contextually, not just well, it's 20% that are not engaging, but who are those 20%? And why do we think based on profiles or different personas that we can make out of them, why are they not engaging? Success for us is obviously that we continue to maintain strong customer sentiment and customer trust.

Liz Wolverton:
So we measure those things very specifically. But beyond that, we have very specific targets. We don't target everything. We right now are, from a success standpoint, we're targeting levels of engagement with certain features. Certain features, by the way, that reduce specifically dependency on the branch structure, where we may be contracting those. Then we're looking at engagement with certain areas that we think are very important to target segments. So, without going down a playbook, it's some very obvious things that you do that are important fundamentally to our business, how people trust us and how they perceive our service. But then we look very specifically at data behind targeted areas that are important to our business and business model.

Jim Marous:
You know, it's interesting because you mentioned this and yesterday we had an interview regarding fund transfers and things like this nature and with digital banking, we have so many different ways to measure satisfaction beyond asking people if they're happy because if somebody's unhappy, they've already left. So you get a kind of like a positive bias that happens when you're asking customers, are you okay with this? Well yeah, I'm there. But when you start to look at transfer of funds, when you look at what happens on a monthly basis, where do people take their funds out of Synovus or any bank and move it to someplace else, you sometimes get a different feel for, oh geez. You know what? We have a lot of customers that are moving their balances on monthly basis to Acorns, which means in some way, shape or form, we're not meeting the obligation on a savings rate or an investment services perspective with some of my bank customers or maybe they're moving balances to a crypto company.

Jim Marous:
And maybe we have a whole block of customers that use Ally as a loan platform. Well, geez, what does that tell us? What does that tell us beyond satisfaction? Which means, how are they doing their banking? Before digital, you really didn't have that capability unless you're scanning checks. Well now it's a whole lot easier and there's a whole lot more instant in the whole dynamic of that. When we're talking about this, we're really talking about data and analytics and we talk about the personalization of your communication, we're talking about engagement. And I know that we've talked about this before, that this is an area of, I wouldn't say great concern, but great focus of Synovus.

Jim Marous:
How do we improve? How do we up our game on the whole concept of data and analytics? How are you upping your game and where do you think you are in the journey? And before I ask you that, let it be known that we've asked the same question of financials like Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. And all them say, we really feel like we're at the beginning of the process. So everybody thinks they're behind the curve, but how are you doing at Synovus?

Liz Wolverton:
Well, I think everybody feels like they're behind the curve because at some point within the past five years, we've woken up and said, we're sitting on a gold mine and we don't know how to use it. And that's just hard. But I think we probably started a journey like most people, trying to build this big plane of data and then figuring out how to deploy it. And somewhere within the past 24 months we just pivoted and we said, you know what? Let's just find a couple of use cases and build from there. So we've looked at a couple of places that we said, we think a combination of certain insights, we didn't say data, but certain insights, would really be a difference maker for us. So, how can I understand potentially when on the commercial side the transaction activity, we feel like we have great relationships with people, but as you and I know, whether it's a survey or whether it's an exchange in a ball game or grocery store, they don't tell you everything.

Liz Wolverton:
So the data will tell you when somebody might be at risk for attrition, because you start to see trickle effect of funds going out. You start to see certain deposits going away. So we are using analytics to register behaviors and actually provide alerts to our commercial clients that, Hey, we know you're connected. You might want to speed up that next conversation. It's really kind of a risk of attrition. We also look at specific opportunities and you know what? We've tried and failed a little bit there. Meaning if you're not finding... It's hard to do that and operationalize it over an entire commercial banker base. Why? Because sometimes there're unique opportunities. And if you flood their inbox with things that aren't super relevant for that customer, then the tool becomes less credible.

Jim Marous:
They ignore the whole tool because of one instance. Yeah.

Liz Wolverton:
It's like my husband says on the car when I don't listen to any of the beep beep, it's like, well, I'm generally not that close. But it's been interesting to see that again, it just hasn't been about the technology or the numbers. We're kind of getting those right. So you build a model and it does tell you there's opportunity here, but you haven't synthesized that to how do you actually take that to market? That's what takes more time and then tweaking how you operationalize that is harder. I would tell you in a company of our size, where I work the analytics area reports to me, where I can actually reach out to my head of commercial and have that real conversation and really dig down into what's going wrong is different than I think a larger organization where there's just more people and more barriers.

Liz Wolverton:
So, there's a lot to work through with analytics beyond the technology and beyond just the numbers. And I think that's where everybody's stuck sort of, on first base. I'm really excited because... I shouldn't be excited, I should be scared. On the consumer side of the house, I own analytics. I own marketing. I own consumer. If we can't get it right, it is 100% my fault, but it really is difficult. We are trying to operationalize customer outreach based on, again, certain behaviors. That takes the analytics engine, by the way, one of the ways that we're doing it is we're not averse to third parties. We're using some third parties to help jumpstart at the same time I'm building an analytics team. I can't go out and hire 50 people in a day.

Jim Marous:
Yeah.

Liz Wolverton:
I can't find them, first of all. I can't afford them, second. And then third, it would be a hot mess to try to onboard all those people. And the teams don't always love that. You hire analytics teams and they want to do the work. So I'm also having to marry third parties and our analytics team. So, those teams come up with the insights and the marketing team has to deploy it. And then the consumer team has to say, does this is work and what if it's not. So it's not just about the data that makes this hard. It is an ecosystem that has to be developed.

Jim Marous:
You know, it's interesting, and it's at a time when the consumer's expectations based on everything else going on around us is increasing just so significantly. Anybody who's used Hulu or Netflix or buy things through Amazon or uses Google maps when they do their driving. It's amazing how the expectation of the consumer as to what you can do has raised to the point of saying, well, why can't you tell me that I'm making a wrong decision with my finances? Why can't you help me along my journey? And we're playing a game of catch up, as you said, and every financial institution is, but those that at least illustrate to the consumer that they're working on their behalf, even in the littlest degree, will raise above the rest because most consumers go, eh, banks are utility and we got to get out of that mode.

Jim Marous:
So, you mentioned a little bit about third party providers. The importance of providing ongoing innovation and agility to address the speed of changes is often overlooked and taken for granted, maybe. How do you keep up with market changes that really impact the customer and their expectations, and how do you work with third party solution providers to maybe take some of these elements that you have to fix and fix them faster?

Liz Wolverton:
When you say how you keep up it's really interesting. I mentioned that our executive team just had a full day offsite, very early strategic session. And our CEO has some core tenants that he says this team has to adopt. And one of those core tenants is an outside end point of view. For so many banks, and so many companies, you look at best in class within your company and what's performing well. So that outside end point of view says, Hey, you may look good compared to yourself, but you look kind of crappy compared to this peer group. Or by the way, your strategies may look solid but when we look from the outside in, goodness gracious. People are exploring things that we haven't even considered. So I think one of the ways that we keep up is that outside end point of view. The second thing is, it is embracing that innovative mindset, which means at a company it's not just one person.

Liz Wolverton:
We literally teach a class right now to our leaders on innovation. I have the pleasure of, they won't let me teach it, but I have the pleasure of introducing it when it's taught. And the nugget that I always say is, you are going to walk away today with the ability to innovate and we need you to. There's three sets of innovation. You see, think, and do. Every day you see and think, but the difference between non innovators and innovators is the fact that some people take that third step and do. So, I think those mindsets are important for us and it financially and with the technology is hard to keep up.

Liz Wolverton:
We make hard decisions every day because... You know Zach Bishop is our head of technologies. He's a great partner of ours. He came to the company a few years ago. Breath of fresh air. Modernization is his heart and soul. And by the way, since he's been here, Synovus has won three technology awards, which if you would've told anybody that five years ago, he's won the Gonzo Banker award for most innovative, modernized approach. We just won top 10 technology companies in Georgia. In Georgia? Do you know the technology companies in Georgia?

Jim Marous:
Yeah, exactly.

Liz Wolverton:
But you get there from a, that mindset. And b, to keep up, you have to be willing, I feel like a broken record, to think differently. You have to be willing to partner. You have to be willing to look at where the puts and takes are in the financial model that will get you to the next step and the risk model that will get you to the next step. And it may be to veer out and do an add-on. Like we always said, oh, if everything has to be through one provider and streamline, and that's the best path, well, it's not always the best path. So, I don't know. It's hard, Jim. It really is hard.

Jim Marous:
Well, it seems so, because we talk about, and my team knows that it probably comes up in every single podcast. It gets back down to leadership. If your leadership of an organization does not embrace change as opposed to avoid change, if they rest on their laurels because they're making money as opposed to saying, we've got to march to the beat of a different drummer. If you don't have that disruptor or innovation mindset, if you don't really take that throughout the whole organization and honestly, the reason why you're on the podcast is I was stunned by what it was going on at Synovus and how much of it was because of the leadership that you provide, and obviously the leadership that's above you to allow you to provide it, and what your employees embrace. It's fun. The challenges, most financial institutions still do not have that mindset.

Jim Marous:
They really hope that this boogeyman of FinTech and boogeyman of inflation and everything else, go away. And the reality is, you may still make money through all those different changes, but you won't be a viable financial institution in your customer's eyes or your employee's eyes. It makes it hard to hire and everything else. So, as we're wrapping this up today, what are your aspirations for Synovus over the next one to three years? And I hate to go any further than that because we've proven to ourselves because of the pandemic that never take it too far in the future because you don't know what's going to happen, but what are the aspirations that you have?

Liz Wolverton:
Oh, they're big. They're big. And if I can just speak to, I'll answer your question I promise, but just speak to what you just said about leadership. Why I get excited is this company's 135 years old and it is a strong shift. I mean, it is well done in every way. And I look at a lot of the challenges, instead of getting scared by them, and I also look at what we've done. I have seen this company over 20 years. When a hard task was put before it, the culture of the company is, we are going to get through to the other side. I love it. You remember when you went on a bear hunt as a kid, you can't go over it, can't go under it, got to go through it? Got to go through it. So that's what we do.

Liz Wolverton:
And so that spirit and the foundation and what I think is just the smarts and the mentality of this executive team tell me, I don't know how the heck we're going to get there, but I have confidence. And I think our team has confidence. That's a big difference maker. What I want is, I want to make sure that we give Zach Bishop the money to modernize the stack. And it's hard. Every day we're having to cut a little bit of that to keep things moving, but we've got to make some big strides in modernization because that is just going to be freedom for us as far as how we can then move with speed. So, he's got a good roadmap. Modernization in three years, I hope to be much more progressed from an infrastructure standpoint.

Liz Wolverton:
I want to change the word transformation. I am committed to a metamorphosis within our retail delivery. And I say that because that's beautiful, right? I mean you think about transformation, it can be a hot mess. Metamorphosis to me is like beautiful. And I want to see these teams and this company that has served our clients so well, just gracefully metamorphasize into something different happening in the market, in the choreography between digital and human and that being embraced because of the benefits to the customer. So, I want to see that. And then I want to continue to see our management team and our leadership teams improve as we have been doing the effectiveness of how we work together because the trickle down effect to the organization is just massive. So, beyond that, we're a $60 billion bank today. I think that number is going to get exceedingly bigger in the future. And a lot of that's going to be on the organic growth, not on the traditional type of acquisition.

Liz Wolverton:
I think we'll acquire, I think we'll acquire smaller and in the ways that'll be strategic to get better in the ways that you and I have talked about, but this ambition, this company is going to continue to be strong and I'm excited about it.

Jim Marous:
You know, it's interesting. In the introduction, I mentioned that at Synovus, you're building the muscles for continuous change and that is a major, major hurdle, but it's got to be done over time. It's not something you can just turn a switch on. And that's what's really interested me about your organization is that this has not been a short term process. Through the way the organization's built and you're always fighting against the legacy successes, because as you mentioned, Synovus' a very strong organization with the legacy culture. Been around for a long time and done very well. It would be so easy just to do banking as normal.

Jim Marous:
And yet, you're disrupting things from inside and in a way that everybody's on the same page and saying, the trust of the employees to buy into that. So that's pretty important. You know, finally, last thing I promise you that. What recommendations do you provide an organization today who's going along their transformation journey, but is looking for what's going to make a difference today. How can I do things differently? What have you found to be, if you, if you gave a bank a suggestion, what would it be?

Liz Wolverton:
Well, if you're not having the discussions in a line from the top down on what the true destination is, you're already starting behind. So we have a lot of those discussions. And by the way, it's creating belief. Synovus has actually always been an innovative bank. We spun the largest global payment processing company out of our basement in Columbus, Georgia. And it's actually reminding people, Hey, we've done this. We actually have been innovators in the past. So it's creating the belief and creating the urgency at the executive alignment session. That's where you got to start.

Liz Wolverton:
If you don't start there, you may not fail, but it's going to be a lot harder. And then start with the customer. Don't forget about the customer. Do not start with the technology. Start with the customer. What does the customer need? What are you trying to execute in your business model? Don't go out and find a problem for a technology solution because it worked over there. Start with alignment. Start with the customer, and then move and appreciate pace in the technology. That's sort of the top of the house. If you don't want a 30 minute answer, that's my 120 second answer.

Jim Marous:
You know what? I'm going to take it a step further. Can you say, it's not the technology, it's the customer. I'm going to take it a bit further from what you've said today. It's not the technology, it's the people.

Liz Wolverton:
Yeah. It's the people.

Jim Marous:
Because it has to do with the people at Synovus, your employees. If you don't get the internal people on your bandwagon, guess what? Your methods that you're trying to get out there is not going to get out there the way you want it to be, because your direct contact people, be it in customer care, be it in the product area, be it in the branch, whatever it may be. If you don't get the people to buy in, the technology's going to mean nothing.

Jim Marous:
You're going to be spending a whole lot of money to make a bad bank faster. And that's meat and potatoes type of stuff. So Liz, thank you so much for making time for us. And as I've said to you many times, you're a breath of fresh air in an industry that doesn't always have as many as I'd like to see. And when you stumble upon, and that's actually how our relationship started, was kind of stumbling upon it by accident almost. And you say, geez, they get it. You feel it. And we've had this a couple times and I will bet you that out of this conversation, you're going to get some people wanting to get jobs because it's an environment that I think people want to work in if they want to be in banking. So thank you again and appreciate your time.

Liz Wolverton:
Thank you.

Jim Marous:
Thanks for listening to Banking Transform, the winner of three international awards for podcast sections. If you enjoyed today's interview, please take some time to give our show a positive review on your favorite podcast app. Also, be sure to catch my recent articles on The Financial Brand and the research we're doing on the Digital Bank Report. This has been a production of Evergreen Podcast. A special thank you to our producer, Leah Haslage. Audio engineer, Sean Rule Hoffman, and video producer Will Ritz. I'm your host, Jim Marous. Until next time remember, it's not about the technology. It's about the people, both your customers and your employees when you're looking at digital transformation success.

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