Q&A with Fifth Third’s Melissa Stevens

April 24, 2018
Author: Josh Pichler
Blog | Q&A
Mobile phone use

Melissa Stevens is Chief Digital Officer and Head of Design & Innovation and Omnichannel Experiences for Fifth Third Bancorp, where she is responsible for driving a deep understanding of customers.

Melissa uncovers new opportunities for the Bank, guiding her team through innovation and Agile development, and pushing a mobile-first approach to improve the customer experience while driving growth.

Melissa came to Fifth Third almost two years ago from Citigroup, where she was co-founder and chief operating officer of Citi Fintech.

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third, the 13th largest bank in the country, has invested heavily in technology to bring new solutions to its customers in Commercial Banking, Branch Banking, Consumer Lending and Wealth & Asset Management. The bank recently introduced MomentumTM, a mobile app that allows Fifth Third customers to round up their debit card purchases and apply the round-ups to their student loan balances.

We asked Melissa why Fifth Third created Momentum and how it is leveraging technology on behalf of its customers.

How you are doing things differently at Fifth Third?

We all know how technology is changing customer expectations and their behavior. We live our lives in micromoments. You accomplish with a few taps or swipes on your phone in a matter of seconds in the elevator ride what used to take hours and hours of calls or running errands, getting yourself to different places. Customers’ expectations now are for companies to come to them where they’re living their day-to-day lives, not for them to need to come to us. While that’s incredibly important, and technology is changing our expectations about that, it is not by itself delivering the experience that people need.

At Fifth Third, we know we have to take that technology and harness it and deliver differentiated solutions to our customers so they can accomplish what they need in their banking and get on with the rest of their lives. We also believe that customers aren’t comparing us with others just in the financial services industry; they are comparing us to their last best experience.

How is technology built into the bank’s history?

What’s great is that fintech has been part of our DNA for a long time at Fifth Third – after all, financial technology is the backbone of all financial-services firms. In the ’70s, we invented the first network ATM system called Jeanie®. That evolved to Midwest Payments that we took public in 2012. You know that company today as Vantiv, which recently was acquired by Worldpay – making them the second-largest card processor in the world. So we’ve been very active in the fintech space for a while.

Now we prioritize mobile-first solutions because we know our consumers are on the go, and we’ve seen fantastic growth in the way people are using the mobile channel. On the mobile front, we’ve had more than a 40 percent increase in log-ins over the last year. That is driven primarily by our execution of more biometric log-in possibilities – using touch ID and now face ID.

Why did Fifth Third decide to create something that helps college grads pay off their college debt faster?

We try to be disciplined at the Bank to make our strategy always start with the customer. A little over a year ago, we began an extensive effort to build a body of research on millennials. Fifth Third surveyed more than 3,000 millennials and interviewed more than 100 young adults in six markets across the globe to understand better what they need in general in life – their hopes and dreams, their challenges and opportunities. We wanted to learn more, not with a solution in mind or a banking product, but to understand this generation better.

We also wanted to bust some myths about this generation. You’ll often hear that they don’t have money and that’s why they are still living with their parents. But what we’re finding is there is a lot of affluence and even first-time home buyers in their ranks. We also hear a lot about how this generation has much more debt than previous generations. But we’re finding this isn’t true. Baby boomers and Generation Xers had debt for their homes – tangible goods – at this age. We’re finding millennials with that same amount of debt, but for their college education, so intangible goods. It’s a different investment.

And we found that it is this type of debt which makes moving forward feel difficult. Student loan debt is now more than $1.3 trillion, with the average college graduate’s debt at $37,000.

Tell us about the Momentum app.

With student-loan debt as one of the biggest burdens that the millennial generation faces, we found that if we could bake a chance to do better in paying that loan debt off into their daily lives, we could get engagement and involvement from them.

So we created Momentum as a stand-alone app. It allows our checking customers to swipe a debit card, round up, and we will directly pay down their student loan. They register their student loan with us, and we directly pay it down. We’ve had more than 40,000 downloads, and we’re on track to help our customers who use Momentum to pay off more than $1 million in student loan debt over a 12-month period. And we’ve made this free.

What makes this an even more innovative solution is that you can sign up for Momentum even if you don’t have a student loan – you can round up to pay toward someone else’s loan such as your niece or nephew’s loan. It’s an easy and effective way you can support education or make a gift to a family member.

What have you heard from customers?

The feedback has been amazing. We’ve had customers who are ahead a month on loan payments and some who have told us they love the fun badges called #Wins that Fifth Third sends them as they sign up, use the app and make payments. We’ve also heard more of what customers want.

We built this as an MVP, or minimally viable product, to get it out there for our customers to start using and to give us feedback. We can use that to build a roadmap of what we want to improve on and add. We’ve heard from some customers who really love the app that they want the option to add more than just a $1, but to add a few bucks when they can. We’ve also heard from customers that it would be great to add this feature to home loans or car loans. We’re only a few months into Momentum, but we think it’s something we’ll explore.

We also heard about something special you did for some of your users.

This is one of my favorite things: Last fall on Giving Tuesday, we wanted to thank a few of our newest Momentum customers for using our app. So we surprised three lucky Momentum users and paid each of them $37,000 that they could use toward their student loans. It was so great to see their surprise and gratitude and how their lives changed the morning we delivered the checks. One woman, a mom of a 2-year-old, said that she and her husband will start a 529 plan for their daughter now with that money that would have had to go to her student loan. It’s really great to see how we can change lives.

From the CBTS blog archive: Read 5 ways that Network as a Service can help the financial sector.

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