Fifth Third Securities has beefed up its sales team considerably, hiring Michelle Griffith, formerly of Citibank in Chicago, who will now run the eastern portion of that territory for Fifth Third; former BankWest Investment Services program manager Bradley Grubb to manage sales in its Western Ohio market; and Britt Woods, a BIC Top 50 Rep in 2005 and former advisor at National City, now sales manager for Tennessee and Georgia.

The program has been on something of a tear since Howard Hammond took over as president four years ago. Before his tenure, Fifth Third’s investment program was primarily platform driven; now advisors lead the program, creating a product diversity that has allowed it to thrive. For example, when Hammond joined, annuities (fixed and variable) made up 60% of sales; now they account for just 15%, he says.

Fifth Third’s territory spans 12 states and counts 1,309 branches. While Woods, a $1 million-plus producer before turning manager, is taking on a new market, Grubb and Griffith were management “upgrades,” Hammond says. Both managers know Hammond from their tenures at Citi. All three cut their teeth as advisors, as did Hammond himself. “A lot of people haven’t sat in the chair and produced,” Hammond says. “All our management team has at one point.”

Griffith, who was an area investment manager at Citi until Deborah McWhinney’s change in strategy retitled her group executive for the last couple of months she was there, saw the advisors under her watch dwindle from over 20 to just seven as a result of Citi’s restructuring of its investment business from traditional bank brokerage to a group advisory model. Many of the advisors who left Citi joined Fifth Third, and they spoke highly of their old boss. When the position opened up to manage half of Chicago’s vast market, Hammond tapped Griffith for the role.

Griffith has just hired the 19th advisor in her territory and plans to add more whenever she finds a promising candidate. With a territory of 70 branches, there’s plenty of room for growth as she takes her slice of the program forward. Griffith’s immediate goal is to bring in $6 million in revenue annually.

A financial advisor at Citi for 14 years before becoming manager, Griffith says she’s more comfortable working within a more traditional bank-brokerage operation that Citi’s was becoming. Fifth Third has a 696-strong platform program, for one, and advisors work out of bank branches. “This model gives advisors the independence to build their businesses around the demographics of their individual communities,” she says. “I built a successful practice partnering with bankers, a strategy I think leads to accelerated growth over time.”

Meanwhile, Woods was National City’s top producer for five years running when it was bought out by PNC. The acquiring bank split up advisors’ books by branch, leaving Woods with a “stripped” book, so he up an left for Huntington Bank. Woods really wanted a job in management, though, and Fifth Third was looking to put top producers in management roles. Woods doesn’t have much of a management background, but he has proven his entrepreneurial acumen in the past, so Hammond hired him to expand the bank’s fairly new territories in Tennessee and Georgia, created by its acquisitions of Franklin National Bank in 2004, RG Crown in 2007 and First Horizon in 2008.

Woods’ territory spans 80 branches right now, and currently manages five advisors. The bank’s goal, though, is to eventually have 200 branches in Georgia and 65 to 70 in Tennessee. Woods’ immediate goal is to bring the advisor headcount up to 10 then to 25, but only where the potential hire is a good fit. “We want quality over quantity,” he says. In addition, Woods has two platform reps in Georgia and 10 in Tennessee.

Because the territory is effectively a start-up, Woods’ revenue goal is “tiny,” but the manager is bullish about where he can lead his team. “I know what it takes to be a $1 million producer,” he says. “I understand the bank client mentality—they’re coming to the bank for safety. If you take care of a $100,000 need, you’ll soon find they have $500,000 in other places. So many advisors don’t look beyond the initial sale.”

Grubb says he was attracted to the bank by the level of support the investment side gets from retail. While many banks are touting investment services now because while they have cheap deposits flowing in, loans are on the fritz, Grubb says Fifth Third stays consistent in its “three-legged stool” approach, whatever the market. “I’ve been trumped before by the flavor of the month,” he says of investment support being unceremoniously dropped when a bank is on a loan or deposit push.

Grubb’s new territory consists of around 100 branches, 50 investment advisors and 25 platform reps, something of a drop from the 19-state, 700 branch, 130-advisor program he used to run, but in a happier environment. Grubb says advisors in his territory average $350,000 in production, far higher than Kehrer-LIMRA’s estimate this year of $200,000 for the average bank rep. And the only way is up, he says. “Fifth Third is in a position to get out from under the burden of TARP, and it will grow organically and through acquisition, hopefully more of the latter, which opens the door for those people who have proved themselves,” he says. “That’s what I’m looking to do.”

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