Faces of the Atlanta Fed: Chris Alexander of the Retail Payments Office

November 30, 2017


Chris Alexander, a vice president in the Retail Payments Office (RPO) at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, will tell you that people are his passion.

There is scarcely anyone employed at the Bank whom Alexander hasn't met—and he wouldn't have it any other way. When he sees new Atlanta Fed colleagues, he finds a way to introduce himself and strike up a conversation.

"I like to see people helped and encouraged," he said. "Ironically, my last name, Alexander, means ‘helper of mankind.' I try to live out that name."

Employed for 33 years with the Atlanta Fed, Alexander says his willingness to engage with others has helped him achieve success at work and tackle tough assignments.

photo portrait of Chris Alexander
Photo by David Fine

The RPO is responsible for clearing and settling check and automated clearinghouse (ACH) payments for the Federal Reserve System. Alexander supervises business areas in that division's Operations and Customer Service Department. His work involves making decisions about people, including workforce planning, testing, business support, and organizational development. The staffers who report to him work remotely from their homes most of the time. Many employees live in different cities across the nation.

"He's probably one of the best relationship builders I've known," said Craig Griffin, an Atlanta Fed assistant vice president and assistant general auditor. "Chris has had to make tough personnel decisions in the course of his career, but he's very genuine and honest in the way he treats people."

Alexander's first job at the Bank was in the Audit Department at the Atlanta Fed's Birmingham Branch. Within seven years, he transferred to the Atlanta headquarters and was tapped for a director-level position in auditing, managing former supervisors and professionals who worked in other locations. During the years that followed, Alexander held leadership roles in the cash, checks, and ACH business lines. He was promoted to vice president in May after 20 years as an assistant vice president.

Learning through mistakes

Alexander concedes he's had his share of growing pains at the Bank and made "a ton of mistakes" in some leadership positions, particularly during a stint in the check operation, with which he was then less familiar. "You grow through things that you don't do well," he added.

His current job, which also includes leading an RPO work group on diversity and inclusion, is an important role as the division continues to upgrade its technology to improve efficiency and enable payments to be processed more quickly.

"Communicating the need for change to staffers in ways they can understand requires leaders skilled in dealing with people," said Nell Campbell-Drake, a vice president responsible for the RPO's strategic business relations and outreach. "Chris is helping us strengthen those leadership qualities."

About the RPO

The RPO processes check and ACH payments for depository institutions and third-party processors on behalf of the Federal Reserve. Formed in 1994 and headquartered at the Atlanta Fed, the RPO is the national entity managing the retail processing function on behalf of the Federal Reserve.

Retail payments are vital to the nation's commerce. These payments include transactions such as automatic debits from a checking account, direct deposits, online bill paying, and debit card payments. They also include Treasury payments like Social Security and U.S. savings bonds. The Federal Reserve's mission in retail payments is to foster the integrity, efficiency, and accessibility of U.S. retail payment and settlement systems in support of financial stability and economic growth.

Though Alexander enjoys interacting with all of the RPO's nearly 600 employees in some way, he's found that working on different policies for various locations can have its challenges, particularly as colleagues share their opinions on how tasks should be done. During such times, Alexander stays true to the basic lessons he's learned from decades of managing people. "Treating others with respect and dignity comes first," he said.

Around the Atlanta Fed, Alexander is a trusted go-to colleague for peers, subordinates, and workers in other departments seeking career advice. "Chris has been an informal mentor to so many," Campbell-Drake said. "He has taken pride in trying to be a counselor for minorities who come along in the organization."

Tapping the power of humor

Alexander, who earned a bachelor's degree in banking and finance at the University of Alabama, will often use humor to break the ice and help people feel at ease. Campbell-Drake remembers how Alexander impersonated the late soul singer James Brown and other well-known entertainers to help break the office tension during strenuous workdays. Over the years, Alexander has been a popular speaker at employee retirement roasts, Griffin said.

Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Alexander was the only child of a mother who taught high school English, typing, and shorthand, and a father who had a career as a millwright, then drove a school bus during retirement. Alexander's wife is a former Atlanta Fed employee, and they have two sons.

He says he learned the value of listening to others, having a friendly disposition, and being unpretentious from watching his parents and other family members.

"My dad never seemed to meet a stranger," Alexander said. "He was confident in all of his interactions and used a smile and humor in his engagements. My mom created long-lasting, trusting relationships and friendships."

His humility and compassion for others were evident during his time as a student, says Myron Smoot, an assistant examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas who was Alexander's college roommate and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brother.

Smoot said his friend was an excellent baseball player, is active in his church, and gives generously. "Many individuals don't know the things he's done to help others," Smoot added.

Alexander is still giving back. To celebrate their recent silver wedding anniversary, he and his wife are looking to help 25 families in need during this holiday season. "We've been working on that list," he said.

photo of Karen Jacobs
Karen Jacobs

Staff writer for Economy Matters