2 min read June 2023 — In an interview with Invest:, Lee Fite, regional president at Fifth Third Bank, discussed the key highlights the bank has experienced in the past year and what they indicate about the current state of banking in the region. Additionally, he addressed the bank’s growing areas and its approach to navigating economic shifts.
What have been some recent highlights for Fifth Third Bank and what do these successes indicate about the state of banking in the region?
Banking is undoubtedly one of the largest and most impactful industries in the Charlotte market and for good reason. There are numerous excellent banks and the talent pool here is tremendous. I can confidently say that the industry is thriving, especially for banks with a significant presence in Charlotte. These banks not only have made the commitment to support growth but also embrace the outstanding qualities that make Charlotte an exceptional place to live and work.
As for Fifth Third, the past 12 months have been a continuation of investment and impact. We have often discussed our commitment to growth but it’s not just about growing for the sake of getting larger; it’s about striving for excellence. Our customers appreciate the level of talent, our commitment to local resources and our relentless focus to help our customers achieve their goals–however ambitious they may be. This year has been a remarkable testament to the power of committing to a vision and taking the daily steps necessary to make a difference for customers. We have been fortunate enough to witness growth in relationships across all our business lines, we have continued to hire to our team and have made local investments in building financial centers throughout the region. Our recent participation in Fifth Third Day further exemplifies our employees’ unwavering dedication to serving our communities. As a leader, I couldn’t be prouder. Our team truly walks the walk and I consider it an honor to work with such committed individuals.
How is the demand for bank services distributed among different areas experiencing growth and how does this reflect the local marketplace?
We are blessed in that Charlotte is experiencing growth throughout the region. It’s not limited to just one area and that’s precisely what makes my job challenging at times. We strive to ensure fair and equitable access to resources when making long-term commitments to the community. In a market growing as rapidly as the Charlotte metro region, it takes a lot of work to balance the community’s needs today with next year’s ever-growing and changing landscape. We think about resources and strategic investments every single day. Over the past 12 months, we have made significant progress in either opening financial centers where needed or advancing our commitments to do so. Some of these initiatives have been a relatively short work in progress, but others take years of collaborating with the community to plan and deliver a solution that truly meets a specific community’s needs. We know, however, that ongoing expansion in the region will require continued investments in people, digital capabilities and additional financial centers to meet the community’s expectations around long-term, personal relationships.
With the economy facing shifts in interest rates and inflation, how is the bank navigating this period and providing advice to its clients?
I’m reminded of the saying, “Slow and steady wins the race.” People sometimes forget that the economy, like most things in life, is cyclical. There will be good times and also challenging times. Our role is to help customers prepare, to seize opportunities during the good times and help navigate stormy waters with the reassuring guidance of an experienced partner during challenging times. What our customers value most during tough times is stability and the ability to execute on a reasonable plan, which is what we excel at. Even in times like these, there are opportunities. I think the significance of relationships is fundamental, especially during challenging times. It matters to have a trusted partner who knows you, understands you and genuinely cares for you. A month ago, there were concerns about bank liquidity and safety. Fifth Third has proven its strength and stability and we have actively participated in resolving the challenges faced by the industry. Most banks are in good shape but it requires effort and long-term planning, rather than focusing on short-term priorities. When you have a relationship with a bank that plans for the long term, a bank that prioritizes your long-term success as a customer, and a personal relationship with bankers confident enough to share ideas and insights, then you as a customer understand that short-term fluctuations aren’t quite so scary. That’s how we spend our time, and the feedback we receive confirms its critical importance during times like these.
Are there any legislative or regulatory developments that you are closely monitoring that could impact your business or clients?
We have a dedicated team that closely collaborates with industry regulators and elected officials tasked with creating the laws governing our country. From our viewpoint, we prefer simplicity over complexity. It is essential for competitive fairness so we all operate on an equal playing field. Competition is healthy and beneficial but it should ensure the same rules for everyone. Besides that, I don’t have any specific concerns. Let’s ensure that the rules are easy to understand and in the best interest of businesses and families as we move forward. If the rules are clear and reasonable, businesses can adapt and execute accordingly. That’s what we encourage our legislature to do — make sound policies that make sense for the long term.
How is Fifth Third leveraging technology to enhance its services and improve the customer experience?
Fifth Third invests in technology at a level commensurate with the largest institutions in the industry. Over the past decade, we have recognized the importance of forward-thinking technology and the need for timely access to information. Customers now expect instant access to information, even in the middle of the night, and we strive to meet those demands while ensuring the security of their data. We dedicate significant resources, both manpower and capital, to invest in cutting-edge technology. Over the next decade, investment in technology will likely differentiate successful, thriving banks from all others.
How does the growth of Charlotte and the opportunities it presents align with Fifth Third Bank’s strategy and how is the bank positioned to navigate the current period?
This market holds particular strategic significance for us as one of our largest employment centers. We have made substantial investments in expanding our facilities, creating jobs and serving our customers, and we expect this commitment will continue. The can-do attitude prevalent in the Carolinas and Charlotte, in particular, is truly remarkable. When there’s a task at hand, the community rallies together to deliver. It’s an inspiring environment in which to build a business and experience success. Looking back, the local government’s vision to invest in an airport over 40 years ago has greatly contributed to the city’s vibrancy. Charlotte now boasts a diverse range of industries and the city’s health is not solely reliant on one sector as it was in the past. We have a thriving mix of companies and leaders, which I believe attracts even more talent seeking to take advantage of varied employment opportunities. The presence of cutting-edge technology and research, along with the investment in the medical school and the growth of technology businesses only serve to further enhance our community’s national reputation.
What is your overall outlook for Fifth Third and the financial sector in Charlotte in the next two to three years and what are your top priorities?
While I don’t have a crystal ball, we don’t expect a severe downturn, especially in a market like Charlotte. We may experience a temporary slowdown but the city’s positive growth trajectory is expected to continue. Our own business is poised for growth this year, as are many others in this thriving market, so our outlook remains cautiously optimistic. That said, we are well aware that Charlotte does face some challenges, including home affordability and continued commitment and investment in high-quality education. What is important to remember, the business community and public leaders acknowledge these challenges and are arm-in-arm in supporting creative solutions. It’s important to remember that population growth and requests for neighborhood-level amenities is a normal outcome in any expanding market, but we must ensure that Charlotte remains an exceptional place to live for all who wish to call the Queen City home. As for Fifth Third, we expect sustained growth and will add jobs, not only client-facing roles but also other important positions necessary for running a large organization like ours. Having access to the talent pool in Charlotte is crucial for our business. We will strive to be a key contributor to Charlotte’s continued growth and prosperity, playing a significant role in the local financial services community as well as being a responsible corporate citizen.
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