Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight

Erika Chambliss – Vice President, Private Wealth Management

Born and raised in Colombia, South America, Erika Chambliss has incredible memories of home and her childhood. Her favorite? Going to Cartagena, Colombia with her father during the holidays or on special occasions. “Cartagena is the most picturesque city in South America. It's full of colonial architecture, gastronomy, and pure magic.”

So why would anyone want to leave Colombia’s beaches, mountains, rainforests, and food? According to Erika, college would eventually pull her from the home she loved to the United States. Erika had a commitment to further her education, and you could certainly say she was successful. After obtaining her undergraduate degree from Columbus State University in business, Erika earned her Master’s in Public Administration. After graduation, Erika joined CB&T in 2007 as a Management Associate, which became Synovus, and now celebrates fifteen years in the banking industry.

Even though Columbus, Georgia was where she called home at the start of her career, Erika longed for her old life, craving the sights, sounds, and culture of Colombia. “When I started with CB&T in Columbus, I am pretty sure I was probably the only person from South America in the company,” she recalls. “I live in an area where I am the only Hispanic person I know.”

She missed her community, her people.

“I miss my childhood culture and being around people that look, speak, and think like me. I keep in touch with my family. I talk to them every day on the phone,” Erika explains. But it’s just not the same as having a community nearby.

That’s where the Synovus commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion comes into play. The Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) prove invaluable to associates like Erika, who find the community they seek in a voice that also sounds like home.

“I love the Aqui Nos ERG; they’re the only way I have to be in touch with my community besides calling my family…I enjoy hearing other bankers across the footprint talking about their heritage.”

Now located on Saint Simons Island, Erika heads the local Private Wealth office. Erika made sure to integrate her favorite Colombian memories and traditions into everyday life. In a moment she describes as “perfect,” Erika married her husband, Bo, in her beloved Cartagena. And when it comes to holidays, she keeps things authentic to her Colombian upbringing.

“We celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, going to mass first, and then a big dinner before opening presents.” Instead of getting gifts from the big guy Erika relies on her Colombian heritage. “We say El Niño Dios is giving us presents for being good people, not Santa Claus. Our daughter, Isabella, gets presents from El Niño Dios AND Santa the next day, so she is winning when it comes to Colombian tradition!”

While they don’t celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month traditionally, every day is about Hispanic heritage in the Chambliss household, ensuring husband Bo and daughter Isabella are well-versed in Colombian culture.

“My whole life is Hispanic Heritage Month,” she says. “I make Colombian dishes at home, and we watch movies and television shows in Spanish. It’s not just a month for our family. It’s our life.”

But visibility and effort matter when it comes to life outside the home. A perfect example was a surprise wedding gift from Erika’s new father-in-law. “When we got married in Cartagena, Bo’s dad, Saxby Chambliss (a former Georgia senator who does not speak Spanish), said a speech 100% in Spanish. It was one of the most moving and welcoming moments of our wedding, and I knew then both families who were so different would simply be one, forever.”

That’s one thing she is proud to see Synovus embrace: the things that make us different. “I think others need to learn about foreign cultures or different groups. It makes us all rich in knowledge. Diversity leads to different ideas and perspectives for better problem-solving and creativity… They learn from us, and we learn from them, making everything better.”

Synovus’ commitment to DEI allows people to be seen and heard. What began as an associate feeling far from home and longing for community, Erika now feels accepted, included, and represented at work. “It's amazing to see the diversity now, after our acquisition in south Florida. I think we gained a lot of business with that market.” And while that is a smart business move, what comes next is the real testament to the Synovus community:

“What I love the most about that move is that we got richer in people. Diversity is a gift that we now have.”