As a professional vocalist in her spare time, Mary Tuuk knows sopranos are only part of the production. So it is in banking, where product lines and lending activity can't work in a vacuum.

That's why Tuuk, the chief risk officer for the $115 billion asset Fifth Third Bancorp, stepped forward in her new role last year to help launch a new risk infrastructure that would, for the first time, give Fifth Third corporate executives a more transparent handle on how risks and returns are interrelated across all the Cincinnati institution's business lines and operations. The new corporate credit committee evaluated credit processes and measured how external factors would impact capital levels, earnings and share prices. "That's been the framework we've used to make all of the decisions," says Tuuk. "No matter what would happen, we would have sufficient capital to absorb any credit losses that would transpire from those scenarios over the next six quarters."

That's quite a reversal for a bank that five years ago earned an embarrassing rebuke from the Federal Reserve for its poor internal controls, which launched Tuuk into her first risk management and compliance role following a stint at general counsel.

As a result of the committee's actions, Fifth Third rolled back or abandoned areas of consumer and commercial lending, upgraded underwriting standards and created pricing grids to minimize default probabilities. The timing of the Tuuk-led initiative in mid-2007 came none too soon, as the tumult of the Florida and Michigan mortgage markets had yet to fully jolt the bank, including a $202 million loss in the second quarter this year. The bank plans on divesting itself of "non-core" assets (rumored to be payment processing and/or asset management), and CEO Kevin Kabat has been optimistic the bank will bounce back with stronger results.

Tuuk, who is the highest-ranking female executive in Fifth Third's history, may also be one of its most multi-talented: she sings professionally as an operatic soprano for the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble, including a 2008 stage performance of the baroque standard Dido and Aeneas.

Return to the 2008 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking

(c) 2008 U.S. Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.americanbanker.com/usb.html/ http://www.sourcemedia.com/

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