News Column

Wells Fargo Strikes Gold by Hitching Fortune to Diversity

Sept. Issue

Jeremy Nisen--Online Editor

Wells Fargo Strikes Gold by Hitching Fortune to Diversity

While the days of westward expansion are long gone, Wells Fargo's leadership in the world of business and finance is a far cry from the days of stagecoach travel.

The bank established its historical place in American history 157 years ago when it was created to assist prospectors, businesspeople, and dreamers seeking to find personal fortune and fulfill the national promise of Manifest Destiny. The forward-thinking strategy paid off back then -- and continues to this day.

The banking giant ascended to the number two spot on HispanicBusiness Magazine's Diversity Elite list this year, indicative of the great strides that Wells Fargo continues to make in the workplace and to its customer base. The company placed 16th on last year's list.

This is not an easy time in the banking industry. Many of Wells Fargo's competitors have fallen by the wayside over the past few years. In the first quarter of this year, FDIC-insured banks experienced overall gains in income versus losses in the fourth quarter of last year, but those gains still represented a 60.8 percent loss year-over-year.

And yet Wells Fargo presses on, even growing its business when it merged with Wachovia Bank in January. In fact, two other banks in the top 10 of our list acquired other institutions recently (Bank of America purchased Merrill Lynch, and JPMorgan Chase bought Washington Mutual). Wells Fargo, post-merger, now weighs in as the nation's fourth-largest bank by assets, giving it more influence than ever in its long history. .

An astounding 41 percent of Wells Fargo's new hires last year were minorities, specifically 20 percent were Hispanic. The company shows its modern-day savvy by reaching out to these candidates -- Wells Fargo indicated that its number one medium for minority recruiting is the Internet. According to the Pew Internet and American Life project, that's a high-growth area for job-search in general and for minorities in particular. The level of Hispanics using the Internet to explore career opportunities is now at 49 percent -- a 28 percent increase since 2005.

Patricia J. Crawford, Senior Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, points out that Wells Fargo was an early employer of women, Hispanics, and African Americans, and included immigrants among its earliest customers. Taking the initiative in doing so set the stage for Wells Fargo's corporate culture from its inception. Having its heart in the right place isn't just a gesture; Ms. Crawford indicates that Wells Fargo's cultivation of a diversified workforce makes a big difference in a business sense as well.

"We are mindful of where our business comes from -- it comes through our team members," she told HispanicBusiness Magazine. "We have a commitment to all of our team members ... and we go the extra mile to ensure we not only attract them but also retain them."

But even as Wells Fargo reaps the benefits of its diverse workforce, it is determined to provide benefits to an inclusive customer base. It seeks to do so through several programs. Wells Fargo Mortgage's Emerging
Markets division, for instance, strives to bring homeownership opportunities to more ethnic minority families. And it is a prime lender to small businesses and minority- and women-owned businesses.

The same principles apply in the company's philosophy on maintaining a diverse stable of suppliers. Wells Fargo's Supplier Diversity group engages in community outreach activities that help grow a more representative supplier base. Over the past six years, Wells Fargo and recently acquired Wachovia together spent almost $5 billion with minority- and women-owned suppliers, $942 million of that in 2008 alone.

In a century and a half, the methods Wells Fargo uses to reach people have changed. The wagon has given way to the wire; the teller serves side by side with ATMs. But the story remains the same: empowering customers and employees to pan for proverbial gold translates to riches for all parties involved.

For more stories on investments and markets, please see HispanicBusiness' Finance Channel

Source: (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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