"Regional bank" is an overly limiting description, really, of many fairly sizable banking companies.
Case in point: Fifth Third Bancorp. As the company looks for new ways to grow in a tough environment, it sees opportunities to expand far beyond its home base in Cincinnati.
During a conference call with investors Thursday, Fifth Third said it plans to expand its international client base. The company currently has relationships with a number European companies in industries such as energy and manufacturing. Its funded exposure in the region accounts for about 2% of its total loan book.
That could increase in the coming year, executives said. Demand for trade financing remains strong, despite the market turmoil from the U.K.'s decision to leave the European Union. And with a range of factors weighing on its domestic growth prospects, it plans to forge ahead overseas.
"As the opportunities present themselves, we will take advantage," Greg Carmichael, chairman and chief executive of the $144 billion-asset company, said during an interview after the call.
Fifth Third has about $3.4 billion in credit exposure to clients across the eurozone, though Carmichael emphasized the relationships extend beyond loans.
Fifth Third primarily serves foreign companies with U.S. subsidiaries, through offices in both London and Hong Kong. It provides a range of services to global companies, including supply chain finance, capital raising and other commercial lines of credit.
With economic growth forecasts looking grim across Europe, a number of foreign companies are expected to seek to expand their North American operations, said Bruce Comiskey, head of international banking at Fifth Third.
The Ohio bank sees that as an opportunity to take market share from more traditional players on the global stage, such JPMorgan, Citigroup and other regional banks.
"We are hoping that we can take a greater share of that pie," Comiskey said.
The commentary comes as other opportunities to expand have fallen off the table.
In mid-July Fifth Third received a downgrade in its Community Reinvestment Act rating, which restricts it from buying banks. The rating stems from lending activities that took place between 2011 and 2013 but have since been shut down.
"That was disappointing," Carmichael told investors, noting that M&A was "very low" on the company's priority list.
Still, the comments marked a notable shift in tone. Just a few months ago the company told investors that it was game for a bank deal in the Carolinas, Tennessee and the Chicago area.
Like most of its peers, Fifth Third also faces challenges generating revenue growth from loans as rates hover around historic lows. During the Thursday call, the company said its net interest margin — which stood at 2.88% as of June 30 — will likely decline in the coming months. Net interest income is expected to plateau.
Discussing its international growth prospects, Fifth Third emphasized that that it was unfazed by — and had been well prepared for — the June 23 Brexit referendum in the U.K.
In the days leading up to the vote, the company reduced some of its counterparty risk and trade financing lines, Carmichael said.
"Like every good company we were prepared for the worst," Carmichael said.
Over the long term, Fifth Third said that it views Brexit as detrimental to the U.K. economy overall, stemming from the potential restrictions on trade. Negotiations over the terms of separation are expected to take years.
Still, Fifth Third's international clients have minimal exposure to the potential fallout, given their large size and their extensive global footprints, Comiskey said. In fact, companies that export goods out of the U.K. could see an upside if the value of the pound stays low, he said.
A number of other big banks, such as JPMorgan, U.S. Bancorp, the custody banks have also recently discussed the upside of Brexit in business lines ranging from trading to payments.
In outlining its international ambitions, Fifth Third emphasized repeatedly that it remains cognizant of risk. It plans to keep its international exposure modest overall.
"We've done a good job of making sure we have the right client selection for the right business proposition," Carmichael said.