Small business lending focus of Fifth Third’s ‘commitment’

A conversation with Fifth Third’s new corporate responsiblity officer.

A newcomer to the region is at the forefront of an effort by Ohio’s largest banks to pay closer attention to the needs of their local customers.

Brian Lamb last month was named Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank’s executive vice president, chief corporate responsibility and reputation officer.

He left Tampa Bay, Fla., where he was a regional Fifth Third president, described there as “a rising star in regional business circles.”

When Fifth Third held a press conference on Nov. 17 to announce that it would set aside $30 billion for local lending and development, Lamb and his new role with the company were mentioned several times.

We recently spoke with Lamb about what Fifth Third’s commitment means for Dayton and other communities in the region.

Q: You came from Tampa Bay, and you were offered this job this fall. What are your responsibilities here?

Lamb: "My job includes a couple of what I like to call really core functions of the organization. I'm responsible for community and economic development, which brings to life the community commitment that you recently maybe have heard about — the $30 billion commitment. I'll be responsible for that.

“It also includes our ethics office. It includes our corporate social responsibility, which is all of our volunteerism and sustainability and diversity.”

Q: You’re pretty young, aren’t you? 40?

Lamb: "If 40 is still young, I'll take it, man. I'm 40 years old, and if I can stay right about here, I'll be just fine."

Q: In November, Fifth Third said it would boost community investment to $30 billion over the next four years. If you’re reading this in Dayton, what does that mean to you?

Lamb: "If you're thinking about what it means to the local community, I'll give you some context. It's really important to understand that the $30 billion is intentionally targeted to areas where we've gotten feedback from those very local communities with regard to where the real need is for Fifth Third to make a difference.

“And that need is coming, I think, in a couple of fairly straightforward areas. Access to capital in the form of consumer mortgage lending. Small business lending, which you and I know in the Dayton area is very important … And then our ability to do the community development loans, where we’re working with commercial companies and developers and folks who revitalizing the community.

“Those are areas we got direct feedback around. We are specifically making what I like to call commitments there.”

Q: That sounds like an invitation for small businesses in Dayton to approach Fifth Third.

Lamb: "It is. We would like the opportunity to have those conversations with small business owners in providing access to capital.

Also, in the commitment we talk about programs and initiatives around financial literacy and empowerment. We talk about putting small business lenders in particular markets, providing local bankers, which we already do, but really kind of doing even more around that.

“So, it’s absolutely an invitation. It’s also a chance for us to have a conversation about what is the right solution for that small business.”

Q: What does that mean specifically for Dayton?

Lamb: "It's the right question. We've made a commitment to those local communities, that we'll be coming to visit with them, to walk them through what it means to Dayton, what it means to Columbus, what it means to Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit.

“If you think about the big major markets and the communities we’re serving, we are parsing this down in such a way that we’ll be able to articulate what it means to those communities, and I think the important thing I probably want to crystallize for you, we are putting an operating rhythm in place to physically be in those markets.

“We will have community advisory forums, and we will have community engagement meetings. Those meetings will be really wide open and detailed in the individual markets and the advisory forums will be big and broad, where we will cover a lot of details about the results of our progress.”

Q: These community engagement meetings, will they be open to the public?

Lamb: "Yes, to these community organizations, so the answer is yes. These are not meetings where we're locking folks out of the room. They should be fairly open discussions."

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