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Fifth Third Offers Early Retirement Buyouts to Cut Costs

As part of its attempts to curb costs, Fifth Third Bancorp FITB offered employees early retirement buyouts in the first quarter of 2016. The proposal was made to 775 employees out of the total 18,000 workforce in a Jan 4 email by the company. The news was reported by the Cincinnati Business Courier.

While the deadline for accepting the deal is now over, several employees are said to have taken the offer to retire on Mar 31. However, the number of employees that took the buyout package and the money offered in exchange for it was not revealed by Fifth Third. Notably, other companies usually have a 15% acceptance rate, implying around 116 workers in this case.

The company is expected to shell out more information about the buyout program when it reports first-quarter earnings on Apr 21. Details like related upfront costs, long-term expected savings and additional cost cuts associated with jobs will likely be disclosed then.

The move marked Fifth Third’s first early retirement buyout package to its employees. The program was voluntary and employees were not required to accept the packages.

“We had an expectation for the program and our results met our expectations,” the company spokesman Larry Magnesen said. “We believed it represented a good way for the bank to manage its costs effectively while offering flexibility for individuals to move forward with their life plans,” he added.

The buyout package was offered to specific employees based on their years of service and age. The bank’s business needs were also taken into consideration to restrict the number of people that took the package.

According to Magnesen, employees that took the early retirement buyout were offered optional transition assistance and job search coaching by the company.  Around 40 workers have joined the job search coaching program.

In case the company had not received enough acceptances for the early retirement program, it could have opted for layoffs as generally done in such processes.

“The bank is carefully monitoring implementation and it has gone well,” Magnesen said. “We will look at how it aligns with ongoing expense management.”

The buyout program seems logical in view of the company’s higher expense base, which despite efficiency initiatives remains a major concern. Notably, total expense growth on a year-over-year basis is expected to be in the range of 4.5% to 5% in 2016, including an estimated impact of the proposed change in the FDIC assessment fee and the one-time impact of the early retirement offer. Such measures will help the company to keep a check on expenses.

Currently, Fifth Third carries a Zacks Rank #4 (Sell). Some better-ranked banks include First NBC Bank Holding Company FNBC, Western Alliance Bancorporation WAL and Northrim Bancorp Inc. NRIM. All these stocks hold a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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