Q&A: Phil McHugh, President, Fifth Third Investment Advisors

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Describe your career path / How did you become president?

In 1986, after graduating college, I joined the bank associate program at Fifth Third Bank. This program allowed me to experience various departments throughout the bank by rotating to different areas for brief periods. This enabled me to determine not only the areas I liked but those that I didn't. Ten months into the program, I found a good fit with the bank's institutional trust department. I stayed in this group for the next eight years, helping to build the bank's retirement plan services division. Even then, we were concerned about how Social Security would provide for the baby boomer generation retirements so 401(k) plans were growing rapidly. I spent the late 1980's and early 1990's driving business for the company, introducing new products, such as Fifth Third's family of mutual funds. In 1994, the Bank acquired Cumberland Federal Savings Bank. It had no trust department or private banking services, so I relocated to Louisville, Ky. to start that division. I spent seven years building its private banking business, including trusts, retirement plan services, personal trust for high-net-worth individuals and retail brokerage. We grew assets in the trust division to $1.5 billion. In 2001, I began to manage Fifth Third's commercial banking business in Louisville, where I stayed for three years before becoming president and ceo of the Louisville affiliate. In this capacity, I managed five lines of business: commercial banking, investment advisors, business banking, retail banking and consumer lending. We grew market share and our deposit base in excess of 50 to 60 percent. In January, I returned to the bank's headquarters in Cincinnati to lead its investment advisors division.

Describe your role at Fifth Third.

I lead our investment advisors division, which has offices in 18 markets. My role is to provide strategies and product offerings for those markets as it relates to our retail brokerage, institutional, private banking, investment and institutional trust services.

What is a typical day like for you?

It begins with a market update from our investment management division which includes a forecast for foreign markets in anticipation of the U.S. market open. I'll then have a series of meetings in which I'll discuss our products for the entire organization as well as strategies for different geographic locations. I'll have lunch with clients or other centers of influence, such as attorneys and accountants. Later, I'll meet with one or more leaders in the bank's different markets to discuss recruiting or business development of strategic initiatives.

What advice do you have for an up-and-coming private banker?

One of the best ways to prepare for a position in private banking is to pursue a position in retail banking and become a financial center manager. This role gives you responsibility for a specific location, enabling you to develop managerial and business skills, while forcing you to hone client management skills. It's similar to running an entire bank, however the responsibilities are limited to a specific office. Starting in retail banking provided me with the skills I needed to move up in financial services. Any position that lets you work with clients while building and enhancing your relationship skills will help you. Every client is different, their needs are unique and the approach you must take varies from one client to the next. Private banking is not one size fits all.

What are the most important skills for a career in private banking?

The most important skill is listening. You must have the ability to listen to your clients and identify their dreams as well as their needs. If you can do that, you'll have the ability to design solutions to help them reach their goals.

What should people wanting to work in private banking be doing to prepare, i.e. groups to join, networking, reading?

There are numerous sources of information such as the The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, and a wide variety of web sites that can be used to enhance your knowledge. Also, many private banking clients encounter tax issues in their professional life as it relates to their personal life, whether its income or estate taxes, so, it is important to be aware of various tax issues and their implications. The ability to identify tax savings for a client is one of the biggest differentiators among successful private bankers.

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