“You could feel the stress and the strain that our customers were going through. You could feel the desperation."

As a bank and essential business, Fifth Third perpetually has risk mitigation strategies in place. Yet even with this planning, Central Ohio President Francie Henry has faced down considerable challenges in 2020. 

Keeping the 62 branches she oversees open while helping employees and clients stay safe was only the beginning. 

One of the most challenging times? Helping businesses apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans, part of the federal stimulus program. “You could feel the stress and the strain that our customers were going through. You could feel the desperation,” Henry says. 

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That the rules of engagement around the loans shifted as her bankers learned them only raised the stakes. “We were helping people in line, but sometimes didn’t know where the line was, how many people were in it, or how long it would take.”

Bankers worked around the clock, she says, and Fifth Third’s local offices secured $160 million in funds for 790 loans. 

For Henry, a self-professed people person who has worked at Fifth Third for 34 years, the hardest part of the past few months is not seeing people face-to-face. “When you have to work through situations with clients, it’s even harder to do when you can’t sit with them and get their human reaction. We were so isolated and it felt so foreign,” she says. 

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Instead, the bank used technology to stay connected. Henry’s employees called all their clients to check in. In part because of these calls, Fifth Third learned who needed extra help. Since March 18, Fifth Third has administered more than 150,000 hardship requests for clients across its 10-state footprint, including fee waivers and mortgage forbearances, Henry says. 

It’s not just Henry wanting more human connection. Clients do, too. In late July, Henry asked one of her branch tellers about her transaction volume. The teller said it was 75 percent of where they were before the pandemic. People were choosing to come into the bank, not just drive through.

Amy Braunschweiger is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.