By Tara García Mathewson–

José Peña got his first job in banking when he was 19. At the time, he was a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, expecting to turn his love of architecture into a career. But more than 30 years later, Peña still works in banking. He found out he loved it, and he never looked back.

“I like the opportunity to really help people,” Peña said. “When it comes to their finances, not only helping them decide but really come up with a long-term plan for themselves, for their family.”

Peña started out working in consumer loans and retail banking at a couple of community banks in the Chicago area. Then he went to Citibank, where he worked on the retail acquisition team for six years before starting what has become a long and illustrious career with Fifth Third Bank. Peña has 17 years under his belt at Fifth Third, which is estimated to be Chicago’s third-largest bank by retail deposits upon its planned merger with MB Financial, which awaits regulatory approval. He is currently responsible for 152 branches in Illinois and Indiana, their more than 1,200 employees and the tens of thousands of customers the bank serves.

“For me, it’s a tremendous opportunity to be in Chicago, in the position I’m in, with the relationships I have with different organizations, companies, clients, and really, to be able to help the communities we serve,” Peña said.

Peña was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and moved to the south side of Chicago when he was seven. This region is where he has called home for the vast majority of his life. He has put down deep roots here, and he has a passion for the way banking can support individuals, families and businesses. Over the years, he has been careful to offer the best advice he could to those considering home ownership or managing small businesses.

At Fifth Third Bank, Peña oversees a massive enterprise, but he tries to make each branch feel like a community bank. One way he does that is through hiring. The people who work in each branch reflect the community they serve. Peña says he wants people who live locally and bring a passion for serving their own communities.

“I like to get people that live and work in the community, so this way they can become a part of it,” Peña said. “They can shop in the area, and more importantly, be well aware of what’s important in those communities.”

“For Fifth Third Bank customers, this means being able to walk into a branch and recognize the staff, but also take advantage of the resources that they provide.” There are investment advisors, home ownership advisors, dedicated business bankers, a vast ATM network and modern technologies that some community banks simply don’t have the capacity to offer. The merger with MB Financial will mean even more reach for Fifth Third, and for customers, more convenience – more branches, more ATMs, more opportunities for support and advice.

Businesses get special support from Fifth Third Bank. Whether they’re startups, established small businesses, or local giants, business owners can get help and advice to manage their operations and get through the day-to-day while also planning for the future.

Looking back at his start in Jalisco and the sacrifices his parents made to give him the life he has now, Peña sees his work as a way to pay it forward, to leverage the values his parents instilled in him to work hard and help others.

“At the end of the day,” Peña said, “everyone needs banking advice.”