Ep. 159: Jamie Gregory - Strategic Initiative for Cost Saving and Revenue Growth

December 20, 2021 | 13 Minutes

Jamie Greogy, CFO at Synovus, joins Count Me In to talk about Synovus Forward, a revenue generating and expense saving initiative that began in late 2019 with the goal of achieving top quartile performance and an annual $175 million pre-tax run-rate benefit by 2022, as well as best-in-class experience for clients, employees and shareholders. The purpose of the conversation is to highlight the importance of strategic thinking and innovative initiatives to help companies navigate tough economic environments. Leading through and adapting to change can be difficult, so Jamie discusses the value of being agile and innovative to guide teams through times of uncertainty. Download and listen now!

Contact Jamie Gregory: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamie-gregory-7030455/

Mitch: (00:05)
Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Mitch Roshong, and you are now listening to episode 159 of our series. Today's featured guest speaker is chief financial officer at Synovus, Jamie Gregory. In this episode, Jamie talks about strategic initiatives and leading through change during a tough economic environment. As an example, he is a part of Synovus Forward. Synovus Forward is a revenue generating and expense saving initiative that began in late 2019 with the goal of achieving top quartile performance and an annual 175 million pre-tax run rate benefit by 2022, as well as best in class experience for clients, employees, and shareholders. Keep listening to hear more about this initiative, the role of innovation and adapting to change.

Adam: (01:05)
Jamie, thanks so much for coming on the podcast today. We're so glad we could have you on, and we all know that the last 18 months have been really hard for many, many businesses. Some shut down other ones, you know, have struggled going forward and companies have to be strategic. And something I was reading about is Synovus Forward, an initiative that your company, has put forth recently. And can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Jamie: (01:29)
Yeah, absolutely. Adam first, thanks for having me today. I look forward to this discussion. Synovus Forward has been transformational for us. It all started back in 2019 when we looked at our long term plan our multiyear forecast and thought about how does that relate to our objectives to be a top quartile performer. And so we looked at that, we looked at where we expected the industry to be and our peers to be. And we realized we had a little bit of a gap there. And so we took a step back and looked internally and we realized that we had opportunities to be better. We had ways we could improve, we could, improve our delivery, to our customers through enhanced processes. We could look and then ensure that we have the right physical infrastructure. We realized that we had opportunities to improve, some of our third party, including, the partners we choose to help us deliver Synovus to our clients. But then, you know, as we progressed, the world changed on us. We started Synovus Forward in late 2019, and the first quarter of 2020, the whole world looked different. And so we had to reassess. And so it changed our outlook of what was required, to be top quartile. And we pivoted from there, but Synovus Forward started off as an initiative. It became a bigger initiative and now it's becoming just a cultural mindset of continuous improvement.

Adam: (02:58)
So I think that's a great example of, you know, seeing the economic environment, seeing the environment around you and adapting, you know, not just, taking, taking the initiative as you first saw it, but adapting as you went along, are there some major lessons that you can share since implementing.

Jamie: (03:14)
Well, you hit the nail on the head. The first thing is being willing to adapt. So you have to always be stepping back, looking at, you know, the impact in your vision and how does, what your outlook for the company, what that outlook is, how does that relate to your objectives? And so we're really clear on what our objectives are. And so as the outlook evolves, our tactics to achieve our objectives have to evolve. And so that was a piece of it. And that's what we were assessing in early 2020. But other lessons we learned is that there are win-win scenarios. If you're willing to really dig in and look for them, there are ways that everybody can be a winner. When you think about our key stakeholders, we have, you know, our shareholders, our team members, and our clients, and all of these can benefit through improvement. And so, you know, that was a big lesson that we've learned. And the last thing I would say is you do have to be persistent. Change can be tough, but you have to be there to support your team members and monitor the progress. And to see the initiatives through, to the finish line

Adam: (04:21)
Change is definitely tough, especially when you're looking to kind of be agile and move and adapt with the environment and financial and accounting industries. They're highly regulated, whether it's it's banking or taxing, all that stuff, everything's highly regulated. How do you continue to be agile in those types of environments?

Jamie: (04:42)
Yeah. First and foremost, you have to have a strong control environment, just to ensure that as you evolve, you're evolving from a place of strength, you know, but agile is, you know, bringing that up is a great point. When you break larger initiatives into smaller components, it can actually help enhance your control environment because you're able to test as you go along rather than wait to the end of a large initiative, to look and ensure that you're maintaining, sufficient control environment. So to me, agile is an important framework, as you think about, you know, maintaining and potentially enhancing your control environment as you go through these initiatives.

Adam: (05:26)
So control environment, internal controls, how important having internal controls been, especially as most of the workforce went to, working from home. And then now back in the office or hybrid environments.

Jamie: (05:39)
It's absolutely critical. And you look at ways to enhance the internal controls, both through your processes, but also through automation. and we believe that, you know, one of the major benefits, of automation is enhancing the control environment, reducing operational risk and trying to take human error out of the equation.

Adam: (06:02)
That's very important. So taking human error out a lot of times involves things like innovation. We've talked about agile, but now let's talk about being innovative. Change is not far behind and how can leaders, how can leaders guide their teams effectively through an innovative process?

Jamie: (06:19)
Well, first the first priority is ensuring you began with the end in mind that you had a long term vision, no matter what. So that way, no matter what short term changes or what tactical changes happen during the course of an initiative or a project that everybody's aligned on long term vision, so that, you know, your tactics may change and your strategies may change and the project may evolve, but it's all driving you to the same endpoint and that's what's critical. So that the team and anybody involved internally, externally, they can see that the progress towards the end, it remains the same, even if, how you're getting there may have changed from when you began the project.

Adam: (07:02)
Yeah. So do you have any examples maybe, of a time where you've led a team through that innovative change that you can share with us?

Jamie: (07:11)
Sure, sure. You know, I want to kind of go back to the Synovus Forward as you look at how that evolved. And so I mentioned that when we started this, we had a hundred million objective. This was to get us to top quartile and then the world changed. And the world changed, you know, when you have, interest rates declining, growth slowing uncertainty on capital liquidity, our outlook evolved with that. Now one thing that's interesting about our income statement is, that we are heavier on interest income, as a percentage of total revenue, than some of our peers. And so when you have that declining rate environment, it can impact us, a little bit more than others. And so when you look at what it takes to achieve top quartile performance, it changed. And that's what, resulted in us elevating our objective from $100,000,000 to $175,000,000. And so we pivoted then, but the team was immediately in line. The team was immediately understanding of how it evolved and how our goals increased because they knew what the long term objective was. They knew that we were all, you know, striving for the top quartile performance. And so that allowed the team to lock arms on the new objective fairly easily. And so that, that type of mentality of having that longer term vision really allows for easier discussions as your strategy evolves when you're going through, change like we've experienced in the last 18 months.

Adam: (08:48)
But you not only had it, you shared it with the whole team so that everybody could be on the same page so that when the change did come, the whole ship moved together as opposed to moving apart in a sense.

Jamie: (09:02)
That's right. That's right. And when you, when you have, increased objectives, increased targets for improvement, obviously these initiatives, can be challenging and they're difficult. there's a lot that goes into them, there's a lot of, you know, give and take between internal and external partners. And so just having that long term vision, having clarity around where we are going, just allows everybody to be understanding of any potential sacrifices they may be making in that process.

Adam: (09:35)
Definitely. So as we look into the crystal ball toward the future, what should accounting and finance professionals be focused on as we navigate to this new normal within the industry?

Jamie: (09:47)
Yeah. Yeah. Great, great question. I mean, for us, you know, we, we had already been moving towards an accounting and finance model, more focused on service analytics and business insights, you know, so we can provide real time decision making capabilities, but the pandemic really put that aspiration into overdrive. It wasn't just enough to provide a one single forecast scenario. We had to adapt quickly to the volatile environment and be agile enough to prepare multiple forecast scenarios while, you know, we're still in the process of enhancing, our technology to provide real time information. But the more, you know, traditional accounting and financials, are becoming more automated, and these responsibilities are shifting towards building enterprise value, pivoting from information delivery to analysis and performance improvement. And so that those are trends that we're really excited about. We are also, you know, spending a lot of time looking at how self-service centers could develop for internal business leaders so that they can gather their own data for any of their ad hoc requests. You know, really allowing for a standardization of reports provided by, you know, the finance organization so that we can maintain efficiency, consistency, and information. And then also just increase the availability to provide value, add a strategic analysis and advice because the team is not overwhelmed with just providing information. So those are the, you know, as we evolve, those are what we are focused on, but we also see opportunities for us to get better. You know, we are continually trying to improve our own education, our own view on the outlook of, of the finance partnerships internally, and to expand our kind of our talent pool. We believe we have real opportunities to grow in our impact on this, on Synovus as a whole, to help us get better, help us achieve this, you know, top quartile performance above peer growth, all of these strategic initiatives that will allow us to outperform, our industry. And so, you know, we believe that finance is right at the heartbeat of it, and we're pretty excited about, the evolution and the new normal as we pivot from information, providing information to being that strategic partner internally.

Closing: (12:23)
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