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That Moment the Consumer’s Voice Shines Through

Friday, August 19, 2016

In July our colleagues at Fifth Third Bank shared several examples of how Financial Health Network has affected that organization’s thinking. “We printed out the image of small-dollar credit consumers, taping it by our desks to remind us every day about the people we were doing our work for.” Thank you, Tom, Mark, and Darren, for sharing this moment of impact with us. Your commitment to your customers is infectious, and it reminds us why we do the work we do.


The following is a transcript from Financial Health Network’s Fireside Chat with Fifth Third Bank.

Darren Easton, Director, Center for Financial Services Innovation
Tom Carpenter, VP, Product Development, Fifth Third Bank
Mark Erhardt, Senior Vice President, Director of Retail Product Management, Fifth Third Bank


DE: Welcome, I’m Darren Easton, a director at Financial Health Network. With me today are two longtime friends from Fifth Third Bank, Mark Erhardt and Tom Carpenter. Mark, would you go ahead and introduce yourself for everyone and then, Tom, you can introduce yourself.

ME: Sure. My name’s Mark Erhardt. I’m the Director of Retail and Small Business Product with Fifth Third. I’ve been with the bank for over 22 years.

TC: I’m Tom Carpenter. I work in Retail Product for Fifth Third Bank, and have been with the bank for around six years.

How do you think about the American consumer?

DE: Mark, I want to start with you. We met probably about four years ago at a client conference, where the subject was “How to reach underbanked consumers?” And I want to know how Financial Health Network shaped your thinking about the American consumer?

ME: Yeah. When I think back actually to Financial Health Network, I think they’ve been on my radar screen for, even prior to that, maybe even a few years earlier. I think it was at a conference and somehow got my way into some sort of lunch and learn, and Jennifer [Tescher, CEO of Financial Health Network] was running it and there were other people there.

ME: And it’s the first time I’d actually sat in a room with people to talk about underbanked consumers, and it’s something I had some interest in. We’d always had the thought process at Fifth Third that there were products and services that our customers were getting from other providers, outside of the bank and outside of the banking system, and it was like “Why wouldn’t we want them to do those business with us?”

How are you designing products for the benefits of consumers?

DE: So Tom, Financial Health Network produces a lot of research. What research have we produced that’s helped you think about products to serve people?

TC: That’s a good question. You have to go back a long way for me and my relationship with Financial Health Network, I was a panelist in ’08 in Dallas before it was called EMERGE, and it centered on the underbanked. So the data that was provided back then and the situation as was described, with at the time the underbanked space, was a little unknown and growing, and I was working for FIS. So I had a lot of things around the front end with check systems and decisioning folks, and trying to get them into the banking system.

TC: We still use Financial Health Network thought leadership and data, and I think we’ll continue to do so, especially as you look on the horizon around our express banking program and other products that we’re putting out that we want to either enhance or even build up from scratch. We have a lot of opportunities together, I think, and it’s going to come down to data.

ME: Darren actually I’d bring up another example. So on small dollar credit, we obviously had a lot of interest in that space. And I think it was maybe three years ago, you came out with the four consumer uses for small dollar credit with a misaligned cash flow and the one time emergency needs. And we actually took that graphic, and one of my product managers at Fifth Third actually blew that up like full size and put it in his office, as he was working on small dollar credit, just to keep him focused on what the consumer needs were.

And I’ll also admit this too, when we actually met with the CFPB, we took a smaller version of that and put it in our presentation to them and actually said “Hey, this is the work that Financial Health Network has done, we actually believe that this is very consistent with what we see with our consumers.” And they were very much, “Yes, we’re familiar with that work, we also agree with it.” And it was good validation that the research really is spot on in many cases, but very useful for us in that respect.

What do you get out of the network?

DE: So, Tom, can you tell me why Fifth Third decided to join our network, and what benefit you think that brings to you all, in your business?

ME: I’m a product manager for a very large financial institution. I have a significant amount of day-to-day responsibilities.

The network itself exposes us to a lot of unusual partnerships that we wouldn’t ordinarily run into, that actually wouldn’t call on us either under normal circumstances. So R&D and going out and doing research and trying to find compatible vendors or partners, that’s a difficult thing for me.

I think the value of the network, especially if you’re in a very disciplined vertical like retail banking, it brings a lot of that to the forefront that I wouldn’t ordinarily see.

DE: So we’re all aware of Financial Health Network’s mission to improve financial health in the United States. What do you think Fifth Third is really doing to improve the financial health of your millions of customers?

ME: It’s an interesting question, because I think initially when we heard the terms “Financial Health,” I think we got it conceptually, and the more we thought about it, we thought “well these are things that Fifth Third has been thinking about and doing for a while.” So we’d always have a very strong kind of customer focus. As a regional bank, we can’t always compete with brand and technology that a national provider would have.

But then it’s also, on the smaller end, we got community banks, credit unions that provide very much personal service. So we’re somewhere in the middle, and we have to find the right way to do that. So focus on the customer becomes important, and really when you focus on the customer, that’s when financial health really comes to the fore, because you realize that even customers that may appear to be healthy, once you sit down and have a conversation with them, they have anxieties, they have concerns, they have just issues, problems they need solved.

A logical extension of that, is really turning it into “Well, what is this doing to kind of improve their financial health?” So for us it was really a good framework that really kind of fit with things that we were already doing.

Closing Thoughts

DE: Well, thank you so much for joining us. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

ME: Let me say this, I would say in general, anytime that you can get a network together of like, or actually not always like-minded individuals, but sometimes diverse individuals and diverse mindsets, together in a — whether it’s in a larger form like EMERGE, or whether it’s within a roundtable, or whether it’s just on a conference call or something like that — I think there’s tremendous benefit to having that interaction.

And I do think that the diversity of thought that you get within Financial Health Network with the various network partners, both banks and non-banks, is really critical.

TC: And the Financial Health Network working groups are the exact type of collaboration that we’re looking for.


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By Financial Health Network on August 18, 2016.

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