Wells Fargo’s African-American Media Blitz Touches Down in NY

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MichelleSenior corporate and northeast regional executives from Wells Fargo & Co. joined representatives of African-American media houses in the New York tri-state area for an invitation-only luncheon to reinforce the bank’s commitment to promoting financial education and economic growth in Black communities.

“We’re here to tell our story, and who better to tell our story to than to the people who are trained to tell stories,” Michelle Thornhill, senior vice president, Diverse Segments-Enterprise Marketing, told the group of reporters, editors and publishers at the New York Marriott Marquis on Oct. 28.

She and her team would show how a relationship with Wells Fargo could financially strengthen individuals and their communities as a whole, Thornhill said. And indeed, team members spread out amiably among their media guests, touting the bank’s financial literacy and wealth management tools, such as Hands on Banking, Stagecoach Island and ShareBuilder.

“Our leadership team is committed to this market,” said Michelle Lee, executive vice president and regional president of Northeast Community Banking,

Wells Fargo is the country’s fourth largest bank by assets (totaling $1.2 trillion at the end of the third quarter of 2010); the number-one retail bank; the top lender to small businesses based on 2009 Community Reinvestment Act data; and in the first half of this year ranked the number-one originator of home loans overall, as well as for minorities and for low- and moderate-income consumers.

The luncheon was the third of an events-packed “National African American Media Tour” that Wells Fargo’s kicked off in March. It took place as the company, along with other leading banks and loan-servicing companies, remains embroiled in a 50-state investigation of alleged fraud in their foreclosure procedures. Wells Fargo executives insisted at the luncheon that the bank’s procedures are aboveboard, that it is cooperating fully with the inquiries and that its decision to resubmit affidavits for 55,000 foreclosures that very day was made out of “an abundance of caution” and not because the original paperwork was flawed.

“These were foreclosures that were going to happen anyway,” one said.

The luncheon came on the eve of two major local African-American events that Wells Fargo sponsored: the annual Circle of Sisters Expo, held this year from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31 at Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City; and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s 10th Annual Leadership Institute and Career Fair, held Oct. 29 to Nov. 1 at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers.

Such support for African-American businesses and academic institutions is not new. Statements distributed at the luncheon show that the bank set a goal in 1998 to lend $1 billion to African-American business owners nationwide by 2010, but by 2008 had already reached that figure. It has since expanded the goal to $2 billion by 2018. Statements also show that of the $226 million the bank gave to nonprofits, schools and professional organizations in 2008, $29 million went to organizations specifically serving the African-American community.

“The success of small businesses is absolutely critical to the success of the economy,” said Brenda Ross-Dulan, executive vice president and regional president of the bank’s Southern New Jersey Region. Ross-Dulan is also the national spokesperson for the African-American business services program.

Thornhill added, “We are doing all that we can to understand the needs of small businesses. There’s the need to make sure there are more viable businesses in the community.”

Even so, Wells Fargo’s support for small businesses is not to be taken for granted, especially in the current recessionary environment, she suggested. “I challenge African-American businesses to come together so that you can do business of scale with us,” she said.

Addressing the bank’s 2008 merger with Wachovia Corp., Michelle Lee, executive vice president and regional president of Northeast Community Banking, said Wachovia’s New Jersey and New York systems will convert to Wells Fargo’s in February and March, respectively. Employed at Wachovia since 1984, and currently managing Wachovia’s community bank activities in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Lee stressed that Wells Fargo’s localized approach to the management of its operations nationwide means better-informed decisions and relationships at community level.

“It means that my team and I, we get to decide how we show up in our community; who we decide to support,” she said. 

When it comes to lending, Lee said, the recession and financial reforms are making lenders more circumspect about how much credit they extend and to whom. At the same time, demand for loans from individuals and businesses with good credit is down, enhancing the public’s unfavorable impression that lenders are holding on to their cash, she noted. Current low mortgage rates won’t last forever, she added. “This is the last refinance boom our country will see in our lifetime,” she predicted.
 
Next stops on the African-American media blitz: Atlanta and Philadelphia.