Curiosity. Problem solver. Attention to detail. A good teacher -- and listener.
Those are the qualities that Fonda Brown Luttrell brings to the table as a process analyst for Synovus Financial Corp.'s operations division in Columbus.
Her arduous task is to take a look at all of the banking company's federal regulatory and compliance requirements, customer data and other behind-the-scenes operations that keep the company running smoothly.
Efficiency is the name of the game, and has become moreso with the financial struggles and painful restructuring by Synovus in recent years. The bottom-line goal is to make customers' experience with the front-line bankers and tellers and ATMs seamless and pleasant.
Luttrell, 45, a Columbus native who self-taught herself the principals of business process analysis and improvement, also has an affinity for the nation's military. Coming from an Army family and once a medic in the service, she works heavily with the House of Heroes program -- volunteering more than 100 hours in 2011 as a team captain. That earned her Volunteer of the Year at Synovus.
Luttrell, one of two process analysts at Synovus, sat down recently to discuss her job, her motivation and her devotion to helping others. This interview is edited for length and clarity.
What does a process analyst do?
I ensure that changes that are made in systems and processes are deliberate and controlled.
What kinds of systems are involved?
Banking systems, operating systems within the operations division and loan operations. It's all mainframe. It could be Excel, or our change-management system, which is called Service Now. There are many moving parts to keeping customers' account information balanced.
You work behind the scenes?
What we do in the operations division is support the front-line bankers and tellers. We ensure that what they are doing on their end is working properly on the back end, that the customer information is updating properly and on time and that all the controls and compliance requirements are being met. We are very heavily regulated.
What's a typical day like for you?
I keep track of a lot of information regarding change control with this division. Change control is ensuring that the system's program changes, document changes, process changes, any updates or regulatory changes that are made that within the operations division everyone is aware of the changes, when they are going to occur and what the impact is going to be.
You meet with people or communicate electronically?
I make sure that everyone is accountable for the changes that are made. It is via email, it's via department visits, it's updating a lot of records and spreadsheets and things like that. It's basically ensuring that all bases are covered.
How smooth do things go?
It's going very smooth now because we have such a rigid change-management process. It took some getting used to because it was new and because it seems like a lot of documentation and maybe red tape to some people. The most minor change had caused major issues in the past. But now we're so focused on ensuring that everything is tested properly, as if it's in the real world, and we address any issues or any fallout before it causes a defect. A defect is when the customer's impacted. An error is something that can happen in testing or in-house. We want to ensure there are no defects that will go out and impact a customer of Synovus Bank.
What's an example of a defect that could affect a customer?
We don't want to make a change to ATMs and leave off a block of customers or account balances that are valid, as an example. So we will test to make sure that if Joe Public walks up to an ATM machine and swipes his card, that he can conduct his transactions without any errors. If you have a CB&T account you should be able to take your ATM card and go to a bank in north Georgia or Synovus Bank in Florida and use it and have no problem withdrawing funds.
It sounds as if these changes in testing and everything else that came from the financial industry transformation after the Great Recession have improved things?
We've had to be more deliberate about changes, and we've had to find ways to save time and money. And the best way to save time is to not make mistakes. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and when you're deliberate about what you're doing and the changes that you make, you don't wind up having to cure a problem that could have been prevented.
Is it a hard job?
It's not difficult because this is what I love to do. I'm the type of person who likes to teach anyone what I know. If you'd like to learn it, I'd love to teach it.
There have been plenty of changes for Synovus in recent years (as it has struggled financially and restructure)?
Change is not easy for most of us. It's human nature; we don't prefer to change. So when we started this there was a little pushback with paradigms: 'We've been doing it this way for X number of years.' 'There's nothing broken and if it's not broke, don't fix it.' Those are dangerous phrases. So we knew with the way the economy took the dip in 2008 we had to really pull up our bootstraps and make it all hands on deck. Every team member had a requirement last year to come up with a lean idea. They had to find something in their process that they knew that they could make more efficient and they were held to that.
Efficient means saving money?
Save money, save time, reduce errors. If there's anything that anyone questioned, like, 'Why are we creating this document? Why are we doing this over and over? Or why is the printer down the hall? It takes me five minutes round-trip to go and get something. Why don't we just move it closer to the work area.' We're not looking for everybody to save a million dollars, but every little bit helps.
For someone wanting to get into your field, what would you tell them?
If they focus on quality methodology, there are certain tools out there. A degree in engineering is good because every process has moving parts. Everything is a process, even at home. That's the thing with lean principals; you can take that stuff home and use it in every area of your life. It's just being conscious of what you're doing that's not bringing value to a process or the end product.
As far as education, I have a high school diploma. I'm self taught. I started out in (the quality department) at AT&T Universal Card Services. I began in the mailroom there, but because I was so into ensuring what I did was great, and I was constantly figuring out an easier way to do things that did not have a negative impact on quality, I wound up in the quality department. While there I won the President's Circle Award, which is the top honor you can receive at that company.
Would you recommend your field to someone?
Yes. I recommend that anyone planning to work for any corporation, or even for themselves, that they take some type of quality management or quality control course, because it will help them in their job or day-to-day situation.
Do you have to be a computer nerd?
No. I have learned quite a bit about Microsoft products and, again, that's self-taught. I know Exel and databases. What I get feedback on as my greatest asset is the fact that I like to listen to people and I can get information out of people without any technical terms and by getting to know their process. It's a win-win because I learned something I didn't know and then I get to teach them how to be efficient in what they do.
Talk about your volunteer work with House of Heroes?
I have been working on House of Heroes projects for maybe six years. I made up my mind last year that I was going to lead and be a team captain. I picked a house that was pretty large and it had a lot of challenges and issues. But that's why I picked it.
I have a fondness for the program because my father was a retired sergeant first class in the United States Army. I am an Army veteran; I spent five years in the Army as a medic. And my oldest son is in the Army, stationed at Homestead Air Force Base. My daughter is married and her husband is in the Army and they are stationed in Hawaii right now. I have a sister that was in the Army. We have a strong military presence in my family, so helping veterans and their spouses, that's just natural.
How do you balance work and volunteerism?
Synovus actually allows us to go on company time and work on the projects during the week. A project timeline is normally two to three days, and as many volunteers as would like -- as long as their work area is covered by other team members -- are permitted to go and work on the projects. I have to really thank the management team in operations because they're always allowing us to do that.
The volunteer work is very important to you?
Your life is only truly valuable when you're giving it away in service. We are blessed in order to be a blessing to someone else. I believe that with all my heart.