Synovus to merge bank call centers

Synovus Financial Corp. said Wednesday it is consolidating call center operations from its 30 affiliate banks to two locations — in Sumter, S.C., and here in Columbus.

The company also is actively negotiating with TSYS, its former subsidiary, to possibly manage both centers after the consolidation takes effect sometime in 2010, said Alison Dowe, Synovus director of corporate communications.

“There are two models we could choose,” Dowe said. “One would be in-sourcing it (ourselves), and one would be having TSYS manage the call centers for us.”

Dowe said she doesn’t know when a final decision will be made.

TSYS, a global credit-card processor and call center operator, already manages a call center in Columbus for Synovus and its local affiliate, Columbus Bank and Trust Co., Dowe said. It employs 40 now.

Under the new plan, which comes after nearly a year of evaluation, the Columbus call center will grow by 10 positions to 50 staffers.

In mid-March, Synovus affiliate The National Bank of South Carolina announced that it is setting up a call center in Sumter, S.C., creating 100 jobs there with a capital investment of $1.7 million to equip an existing facility.

“Just a few years ago we were celebrating our 100-year anniversary in Sumter and here we are today announcing the addition of 100 new jobs,” Bobby Boykin, senior vice president of The National Bank of South Carolina, said in a statement. “While the economy may be challenging, NBSC’s commitment to the communities it serves remains solid.”

The National Bank of South Carolina was founded in Sumter in 1905 and now oversees $5 billion in assets, making it one of Synovus’ largest financial institutions. National Bank is now based in Columbia, S.C., the state capital just west of Sumter County. Fred Green, Synovus president and chief operating officer, formerly headed the bank.

The call center consolidation comes with Columbus-based Synovus last week confirming a second round of companywide job cuts.

In September, the company said it was eliminating 650 positions — 230 of those in Columbus — as part of “Project Optimus.” That two-year initiative is aimed at streamlining some company operations and making it more efficient.

Last week, Synovus said it is in the process of downsizing its work force by 200 additional jobs, 74 of them in Columbus. Those cuts are expected to be completed by the end of May.

The consolidation was made because the existing network of call centers at the 30 Synovus banks were limited in their hours of operation and services they offered, Dowe said in an e-mail breakdown of the decision.

This should solve that, the company said. It also wants two call centers in case one is shut down in an emergency.

Sumter and Columbus were chosen for the centers because their markets had “the best labor pool, affordable wages and existing, bank-owned facilities in which to house the centers,” the company said in the e-mail.

Synovus employees may apply for the positions available at either center, the company said. Call centers typically offer lower-paying customer service positions. There are a small number of managers and support staff.

It’s obvious communities will take any jobs they can get in tough economic times, however. While the Columbus unemployment rate reached 8.8 percent in February, and Georgia as a whole topped 9 percent, South Carolina hit 11 percent. That gives that state the highest jobless rate in the nation behind Michigan’s 12 percent.

“We hope this announcement gives the people of Sumter County a small ray of hope that better times are ahead,” Vivian Fleming-McGhaney, chairwoman of the Sumter County Council, said during the recent unveiling of the South Carolina call center.