September 01, 2003

Fifth Third Bank has been growing by leaps and bounds. Five years ago, the Cincinnati-based organization had 4,500 employees. Today, it has more than 21,000 across its 17 affiliate regions.

Given its expanding footprint, it's not surprising that the $81 billion-asset bank made the move to e-learning. What is surprising is the results-oriented mindset behind the strategy. The bank has been live with the Enterprise Learning Suite from Saba (Redwood Shores, Calif.), since May 2002. In the first half of this year, its employees completed 22,000 learning modules.

"We're not taking the approach of buying external content and putting 3,000 programs on and praying people will come to the party," says David Palm, vice president and director of education and organization development. "We're about putting quality out there and ensuring our employees have a clear focus on the expectations."

Through a team made up of business and IT professionals, the bank has developed more than 150 learning modules. Content covers all four lines of business, including retail, commercial, investment services, and Fifth Third Processing Solutions.

About 60 percent of that content is developed internally. Recently, a new account reconciliation process was implemented and the bank had to train more than 1,000 employees across the enterprise in about three weeks. Using an internally developed application delivered online, Palm reports, the bank exceeded its expectations for both on-time delivery and audience size.

A current project is targeting the bank's IT staff, teaching standards for use of a development tool. "We're able to say this is the Fifth Third development process...and have it available for new hires, so they can understand Fifth Third's methodology," Palm says.

The majority of the purchased content comes from Valley Forge, Pa.-based BankersEdge, an online training provider. The bank has worked with BankersEdge to customize 40 modules covering compliance and regulatory issues. Palm says it doesn't make sense for the bank to take on that type of development. "They keep it updated based on the latest regulatory changes, and from a cost perspective, it's very efficient," he adds.

Managing Internal Development

The bank also has outsourced development of some large-scale projects. Currently, one of its divisions is working on an orientation program. "That's a really large project, and we didn't have the internal resources...to focus on that," Palm says.

Also, every e-learning application has a test protocol behind it. "We're not only saying, 'Go through this as a learner,' but you're not complete until you can apply what you learned," he adds.

That ability to ensure employees can apply what they've learned and then measure results is at the heart of the bank's strategy. One of the first e-learning projects was around rollout of a complex product that extended across the enterprise. Four e-learning modules were developed to help salespeople understand the product. The bank was able to measure the success of top salespeople who had completed all four modules versus those who hadn't. In the first 30 days, those salespeople who had completed the modules sold an average of 25 units of the product, while those who hadn't completed the modules averaged 13 units.

"The results speak for themselves," Palm says. "There are definitely results that are driving our continued support and continued investment in this strategy."

Because the system is linked to the bank's HR system, the bank is also able to measure and monitor performance in the area of compliance. "We can go in and track that by employee role," according to Palm

The bank expects positive ROI within the first 18 months of deployment. "If we can improve the speed of knowledge to our employees (whether existing or new), we can improve sales and customer service, as well as reduce costs," Palm says.

Palm estimates the bank will save around $500,000 per year through decreased administrative time. "It also provides us capabilities that we did not have without the technology, such as improved tracking and reporting, as well as ease-of-information access to employees," he says. "We've been able to become more efficient on the administration side because the system has allowed us to reduce time and streamline our processes. It doesn't have to be done 17 different ways across our affiliates, so we've gained efficiencies on that side, as well."

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FAST FACTS

INSTITUTION: Fifth Third Bank (Cincinnati)

ASSETS: $81 billion in assets

BUSINESS CHALLENGE: Train 21,000 employees in 17 regions cost effectively with e-learning technology.

SOLUTION: Enterprise Learning Suite from Saba, Redwood Shores, Calif., and financial-services training content from BankersEdge (Valley Forge, Pa.).

KEY QUOTE: "If we can improve the speed of knowledge to our employees (whether existing or new), we can improve sales and customer service, as well as reduce costs." - David Palm, VP & Director, Education and Organization Development, Fifth Third Bank