Monday, May 13, 2013

Fifth Third builds motorsports financing team in Charlotte

When Tom Heiks moved to Charlotte three years ago, he had never been to a NASCAR race. At this point, the CEO of Fifth Third Bank's North Carolina affiliate is a regular. His wife, Heiks jokes, is an even bigger fan.

But the sport has also turned into a bit of business for Fifth Third, Heiks told the Observer on Monday. Over the past year, the bank has built up a team and strategy around financing and serving the state's $6 billion motorsports industry.

Such a vertical isn't particularly novel in the banking world. SunTrust has a motorsports team, for instance. And Bank of America became the "Official Bank of NASCAR" in 2007, a partnership that included commercial lending as well as branded retail products.

But the Fifth Third team is one of the bank's relatively few clusters within its commercial bank. Health care, energy and manufacturing are notable others.

The focus stems from Fifth Third's commercial lending expansion in the state since it acquired Charlotte-based First Charter in 2007. The bank brought on some new bankers with experience in motorsports, who approached executives about creating a concentration, Heiks said.

It also comes from the partnership with Concord-based Roush Fenway Racing the bank entered into last May. Fifth Third was the primary sponsor for Matt Kenseth’s No. 17 car in four races last year -- complete with the bank's blue logo on the hood. Fifth Third is sponsoring Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the same number car this year.

NASCAR makes its way back to Charlotte this weekend with the Sprint All-Star Race on Saturday. Yes, Heiks says he'll  be there.