Banking is a people business, says Steve Petitjean.

“To be a banker you have to be passionate about people realizing their goals,” says Petitjean, senior vice president and city executive for Fifth Third Bank in Dayton since 2011. “You’re helping that young family buy that first house, or helping save for a child’s education. Those are really great feelings when you can help people achieve those goals.”

That’s what attracted the Dayton native to banking 20 years ago and it’s critical to Fifth Third growing its position as the city’s largest bank, with about $2.6 billion in customer deposits.

“If you’re number one you must be doing something right,” says Petitjean, who started working part-time for Fifth Third in the collections department while in college.

But he adds: “We have to continue to be creative and figure out the best way to deliver the solutions our clients want.”

Six years ago, Fifth Third, which has about 600 employees and 57 banking offices in metro Dayton, adopted a customer-focused strategy that aims to do more than offer checking accounts, loans and investments.

“We have a very specific consultative selling process that’s focused on the client,” he says. “We provide solutions once we listen and speak to the client. We figure out their short- and long-term goals, and provide solutions that meet those goals.”

That process followed a cultural shift that started with getting employees more engaged.

“Our culture wasn’t bad, but when you used to come in and say, ‘I want a checking account,’ we thought, ‘Great, we got a checking account today.’ But all we did was take an order.”

Now the approach is to find out what that customer wants to accomplish with that checking account. It’s the difference between being an order taker and a solution provider, says Petitjean.

“We want to be that one bank that you value and trust. So if you have a need, you’ll feel comfortable and call on us.”

Downtown Champion

As city executive, Petitjean, 42, oversees Fifth Third’s Dayton’s retail operations and its civic and community development presence in a region stretching from Eaton on the west to Springfield on the east and from Lima to the north to Springboro south near Interstate 75.

It’s a geographic area that encompasses about a third of the area served by Fifth Third’s Cincinnati operations, one of the firm’s 18 banking affiliates in 12 states.

The Dayton operation annually invests about $1 million on everything from marketing partnerships like its 14-year-old sponsorship of Fifth Third Field home of the Dayton Dragons, to support for the arts and charitable causes to encouraging financial literacy.

Petitjean and his team receive about 300 requests for community support each year.

“Each community has its own personality and interests. They want to know that Fifth Third is invested in their communities,” he says.

With that in mind, Petitjean and the bank’s business leaders meet monthly to decide how to direct its marketing and donation dollars.

But those community investments can have a long-term payoff. For example, Fifth Third’s decision to support the Dayton Dragons stadium was one of the seeds for downtown’s current revitalization.

From his office on the eighth floor of the Fifth Third Center, Petitjean, a member of the powerful Dayton Business Committee, can see evidence of that rebirth.

“This community has long been very entrepreneurial and inventive,” he says. Despite the loss of big employers, Petitjean points to investment by companies such as managed care provider CareSource, which has expanded its presence downtown to more than 1,000 employees, and Premier Health Partners, which acquired Fifth Third’s old building on Main Street for its corporate office.

Around the corner on Ludlow Street, a private developer plans to invest $19 million to create student apartments to serve nearby Sinclair Community College and University of Dayton students who want to live downtown.

Besides the investment in downtown housing, Petitjean mentions half a dozen established restaurants that have moved downtown or opened new locations downtown recently and the $4 million community investment to remove the low dam on the Great Miami River to open it to recreational kayaking.

“People are starting to see there’s value downtown and success breeds success,” he says.

“People see it’s cool to work downtown and there’s recreation like the bikeways and the river, and they think, ‘Maybe I’ll live downtown as well.’ ”

Petitjean’s optimism extends to the state of Dayton’s economy as well. Despite concerns about employee furloughs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base due to federal budget cuts, Petitjean says he sees the local economy stabilizing.

“I’m not an economist, but what I’m seeing is the economy stabilizing and business demand for loans continuing to grow. We’re seeing the consumer certainly doing that. Our consumer loan demand is up significantly and mortgage demand is incredibly hot; demand is shifting from just refinancing to home purchases,” he says.

“Consumers are buying more cars. And we’re seeing more requests for home improvement loans. Consumers are feeling pretty good. They’ve adjusted to the new normal.”

Petitjean says he isn’t concerned about the economy.

“It may sound cheesy, but what keeps me up at night is figuring out what’s the next opportunity Fifth Third should be involved in to move the community forward. It’s why our bankers serve on charitable boards, are involved in sponsorship activities and embrace the arts, the United Way and the chambers of commerce. We believe a strong community makes for a strong bank.”