COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–For Francie Henry, responding to the dual crises of the coronavirus pandemic and a national reckoning with centuries of racial inequity yielded some of the most rewarding moments in a 35-year banking career.
Henry, president of the Central Ohio region for Fifth Third Bank, hopes new relationships forged in the emergency last beyond it, making a healthier company.
“I’ve never had a period in my life where I had so many wonderful letters and notes,” Henry said. “The dialog we had in the most difficult time is leading to a much more rewarding and fulfilling dialog.”
Cincinnati-based Fifth Third was the fourth-largest Paycheck Protection Program lender to Ohio-based businesses over separate rounds in April-August 2020 and January-May of this year. In Columbus, Fifth Third issued 1,143 loans for a total of $129 million, an average of $113,000, for businesses trying to save a combined 12,500 jobs, according to data supplied by the bank. Nine out of 10 loans went to businesses with fewer than 20 employees.
“The first round was a complete, complete disaster,” CEO Greg Carmichael said in a joint interview with Henry. “The second wave went much, much better.”
Black-owned businesses were disproportionately left out of the first frantic crush of PPP lending, in part because many did not have traditional banking relationships. After last summer’s protests over racial inequity more broadly, large U.S. corporations have pledged restorative practices.
Fifth Third, the ninth-largest U.S.-based consumer bank at $207 billion in assets, in December committed $2.8 billion in lending and philanthropy focused on racial justice in the 11 states where it operates, according to the Cincinnati Business Courier, a Columbus Business First sister publication.
In Central Ohio, for example, Fifth Third served as a PPP intermediary in this year’s round for Columbus nonprofit Economic and Community Development Institute, which was actively trying to get the money to minority-owned businesses.
Now the bank is converting previously unbanked businesses into long-term customers, Henry said.
“We can continue to serve as their trusted financial adviser,” she said.
Last year Fifth Third wrapped up its previous five-year plan for community improvement loans and investments, surpassing goals with a total $42 billion. Central Ohio’s portion of that was $1 billion in mortgages in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, $532 million in small business loans, $447 million in affordable lending to revitalization projects, and $69 million in grants, programming and donations for initiatives such as affordable housing, small business and neighborhood stabilization.
The bank has more than 500 employees in its Central Ohio market, which also includes West Virginia and western Pennsylvania. Administrative staff have returned to the regional headquarters on Capitol Square.
The 14 markets operate with a lot of autonomy, Carmichael said.
“Francie has done a great job connecting in the community,” Carmichael said.
Fifth Third was Henry’s first job upon graduating from Miami University. The native of Mount Vernon returned to Central Ohio in 2003, rising to market president in 2017 and regional president the following year. She’s been a repeat honoree in Columbus Business First’s C-Suite awards for most admired local executives.
“When you say we’re not headquartered here, I believe that’s a bit of a fallacy,” Henry said.
“It is our job to make sure the communities we serve are better off,” she said. “I’m building the bank, the brand. It’s a legacy for me to leave behind in the community I grew up in and love.”
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