Wells Fargo: Has the penny dropped on what it means to stay relevant?

June 28, 2021

Financial services firm, Wells Fargo, has launched an impressive ten-year commitment to improve financial inclusion among Black, Hispanic and Indigenous communities. The business’ CEO had to apologise last year for a comment on Black talent, that according to him showed his own unconscious bias.

The Banking Inclusion Initiative promises to help unbanked people gain access to affordable, mainstream and digitally enabled accounts. To achieve its goals, the bank has outlined a three-pillar strategy, focusing on expanding access to financial education and advice, increasing access to affordable products, and launching a National Unbanked Advisory Task Force. Wells Fargo has already announced the redesign of 100 branches in low-to-middle income neighbourhoods, to conduct one-to-one consultations and financial health seminars.

Black, Hispanic and Native Americans account for over half of the country’s 7 million unbanked households. Those in unbanked households have a limited ability to build a credit history, and as a result, struggle to build financial and economic stability. Worryingly, the FDIC reported that the number of unbanked households will likely increase in the aftermath of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The Banking Inclusion Initiative stands out in a sea of corporate social projects, as it represents a new era of what it means for companies to stay relevant. Not only have they recognised the need to innovate their core product offering, but, crucially, they have publicly recognised the difficulty in addressing the issue. Specific praise should be directed towards the formation of the National Unbanked Advisory Task Force. The group will work with the bank in developing solutions to bring more people into the banking system, while also providing feedback on the initiatives that will be implemented and help determine the best ways to measure success. The strong coalition of Latin, Black and Indigenous organisations will offer valuable expertise, insight and guidance to Wells Fargo. Notably, it will ensure that Wells Fargo is staying relevant to the unbanked individuals in a meaningful way, as opposed to simply surface-level support. While staying relevant is essential for any company, it is no longer adequate for this to be performative. The Banking Inclusion Initiative has helped position Wells Fargo as a much-needed corporate leader, focusing on social justice through its economic lens. Now we must sit and wait for other corporations to learn from its leadership; we hope it won’t be long before other banks are giving Wells Fargo a run for its money.

Author: Rosanna Greenwood