Member Exclusive, New banks

‘This is why we’re here’: How Fifth Third leveraged its 160 years to be ‘essential’ during the pandemic

  • Without a playbook, the pandemic challenged banks of all sizes to respond.
  • Fifth Third found its way by plugging itself into its role as a indispensable community institution.
close

Email a Friend

‘This is why we’re here’: How Fifth Third leveraged its 160 years to be ‘essential’ during the pandemic

When COVID-19 first hit, every financial firm had to create its own playbook for how to manage the crisis.

Even firms, like Fifth Third Bank, that have been around since the outbreak of the Spanish Flu, needed to huddle on a new plan. But while the pandemic was something new, Fifth Third has a history of rallying around customers.

"I guess there's a fair bit of institutional muscle memory in the form of a resilient business model," said Ben Hoffman, who heads up strategy and fintech at Fifth Third, at Tearsheet's recent Resilience Conference. "All the hard work that you do during the good times makes sure that your balance sheet, your customer base, and your business is prepared for the type of environment that we live in right now."

When the first effects of the pandemic were being felt, Hoffman told his team -- which includes strategy, managing the firm's venture capital portfolio, and incubating fintech partnerships -- to build expertise in this new world. He encouraged them to lean on their business models, metrics, incentives, and the firm's values.

SPONSORED

Fifth Third, the 14th largest bank in the U.S. ranked by assets, looked to its founding purpose. "We believe in banking," he said. "That shouldn't be a controversial statement, right? We fundamentally believe that we are an important institution in the communities that we serve. Our job is not to deliver checking accounts and mortgages and credit cards. That's just how we make money for our shareholders."

To stay connected to its customers during the crisis, the bank started sending out surveys to see how people were faring and what they wanted from their financial institution. And Fifth Third heard from its customers that they wanted their bank open and available. So, unlike many other banks with similarly-sized footprints, the bank didn't close the majority of its branches.

Fifth Third contacted a local distillery in Cincinnati to move its production line from gin to hand sanitizer to make sure it could keep its facilities open and safe. Hoffman's team had a summary of the Cares Act ready to be shared with customers when it was signed. The bank's branch employees made outbound phone calls to their 2 million customers just to check in.

"We didn't sell a lot of product during those calls," he recounted. "But we built loyalty and and relationships."

Fifth Third also learned that some of its customers customers needed help getting groceries. So, it helped them. The same held true with social services.

As its mission, Fifth Third aims to help people provide for their families, to have a safe place to live, and get paid by their employers, according to Hoffman.

"You do that, because if you want to be on the same tier as the doctor, the grocer, the EMT, rabbi and priests, you can't disappear right when your customers need you most," Hoffman said. That belief carried the firm through the crisis with a clarity of conviction.

In addition to its digital banking capabilities and a push to help customers with their PPP applications, Fifth Third leaned on its relationship banking model. The bank's top management reflected on what it means to be essential. Papers were drafted for branch employees to show to local law enforcement if they were questioned why they weren't sheltering in place.

"You are essential when the going gets tough, and you have to be there, right? You have an absolute obligation, not a privilege to come in and continue to earn a paycheck -- it's an obligation to serve," said Hoffman.

The bank also made sure to acknowledge the extra work and effort its employees were putting in, changing its internal narrative to talk more about what Hoffman calls 'the value of the utility infielder'. This type of team member is sort of an unsung hero, the person who just gets it done, when you need something done.

"We've got places where there are important jobs to be done," he said. "You've got to recognize those are important, and those people deserve to be commended for their contributions."

0 comments on “‘This is why we’re here’: How Fifth Third leveraged its 160 years to be ‘essential’ during the pandemic”

New banks

Rebundling banking services: Are fintechs trying to be more like banks?

  • Why are fintechs that have grown to a certain size continuing to pursue a banking license?
  • Luis Trujillo, CCO at Alviere sheds light on whether acquiring a license guarantees a successful banking business model for fintechs and if it constitutes a threat to banks.
Sara Khairi | January 09, 2023
Banking as a service, New banks

The Big Bank Theory Conference 2022: All session videos

  • Tearsheet's Big Bank Theory Conference brings together the most innovative players changing the face of the financial institution.
  • Here are the videos from this year's conference, held in December online.
Shabih Rao | December 21, 2022
Modern Marketing, New banks

Embracing ‘side bank’ status: 5 questions with Aaron Wollner, CMO of Quontic

  • As a community bank turned digital bank, Quontic has its own unique challenges in sticking out of the crowd.
  • In this Q&A, CMO Aaron Wollner talks about what’s new in the digital bank’s campaign work and how it’s been shifting its messaging to fit the current financial climate.
Rivka Abramson | October 19, 2022
New banks, Sponsored

Creating a winning neobank strategy through differentiation

  • There is a notable opportunity for neobanks to fill gaps that currently exist in traditional financial services, especially since they are free of the restraints of dated technology.
  • However, to be effective, they must identify a primary differentiator or central mission and then build the user experience around that north star.
Praxent | October 18, 2022
Member Exclusive, New banks

Banking Briefing: Will WFH become a thing of the past?

  • Banks are pushing to get employees back in the office – but what will that do for their efforts to attract tech talent?
  • Meanwhile, gender inequality is alive and well in the banking industry. Here’s what one bank is doing to try and solve that.
Rivka Abramson | September 12, 2022
More Articles