For 28 years, Laurie Nordquist has risen through various units of Wells Fargo & Co., the nation’s third-largest bank and the second-largest by deposits in Minnesota.
She became president of its Upper Midwest region and chief executive of its Minnesota banks in July as Wells Fargo was striving to turn the corner on one of the toughest periods in its history.
In September 2016, regulators found Wells Fargo’s aggressive environment drove employees to create more than 1 million false deposit and credit card accounts for customers who didn’t know about them. Fines resulted, heads rolled, strategies changed and a starting-over marketing campaign emerged.
In her first months on the job, Nordquist has visited about 50 of the 350 branches she leads. Here are some of her early observations:
Q: As you have toured branches, what are you hearing about the economy?
A: Really positive, particularly here in Minnesota. We really see good economic growth. Unemployment is low. We’re having a lot of conversations with customers around their financial health. We continue to see a lot of activity in the small business arena. We serve a lot of small business customers out of our branch network. And as an employer, we certainly see the low unemployment rate because everybody wants the talent.
Q: How hard is it to find employees?
A: I think the challenge is in our entry-level, which is our teller position. There’s just a lot of competition for that pool of employees. Once we get into the interview process we do really well because we can sell a potential team member on a career path. One of the beauties of being as large as we are, we have 19,000 team members just here in Minnesota, is if you can get your foot in the door with a great organization, many other doors will open. That’s really a selling point.
I was just talking to a branch manager the other day who referred her mom, which I thought was so wonderful, and her mom is working for us now. You often think of it as the reverse, the parent referring the child. Those word-of-mouth endorsements that we’re a great place to work are helping us in this competitive environment.
Another thing that’s appealing is our commitment to community building. We provide an opportunity to get involved in the community. Every team member gets two paid days off to volunteer in the community in any way they want.
Q: Where is the region in terms of the recovery of the bank’s image?
A: In terms of our reputation, we’re going to recover it one interaction at a time. It’s much more a marathon than a sprint. I think we are doing all the right things in terms of putting our customers first.
We got rid of all of our sales goals for our branch team members, really have them focused on what are the customer needs, how do our customers view us. It’s still going to take every interaction to really turn that reputation view around. I think it feels very different when you walk into one of our branches than it did a few years ago. And we’re hiring differently. We’re hiring team members who really like customer service.
Q: So many companies are going through an analog-to-digital transition with their customers. What is your perception of the embrace of digital technology by Wells Fargo customers in the region?
A: We see our digital transactions are significantly up. There’s still a need for us to have bankers available for customers to be able to walk in and have a conversation. It’s really when, where and how you want to interact with us.
Right now, we’re working with our branch teams to make sure they’re comfortable with all of our digital capabilities. Then, it makes it easier for them to be able to talk to customers. For example, mobile deposit. The last couple months, we’ve been working on having everybody do a mobile deposit. We actually gave everybody a $3 check so they could deposit. They could see how easy it is. We had to get our team members comfortable with it first.
We do have a new tool that is called Control Tower. It basically lets you take a look at where you are doing automatic payments with credit cards or debit cards. It’s one simple place to have it all reflected. There’s some really fun tools out there.
Q: In that transition, Wells Fargo has also announced a plan to close about 15 percent of its 6,200 branches nationwide. What’s happening in the region?
A: In our territory, our branches are very healthy. We’re taking a very thoughtful approach to reducing our branches. We have more branches than anyone else. So as we trim, it’s partly to get back to more of the industry norm.
I’ll give you two examples of where we have closed branches or sold. We sold our branches in northern Indiana. We didn’t have anything in the rest of Indiana and, with our current caps [growth limits the Federal Reserve imposed on the company earlier this year], we weren’t able to grow. The good news is, by selling them, our customers still get great service and our team members get to go with the transaction.
Where we’ve had a few closures in Minnesota has typically been where we had things very close to each other. We might have a branch and then, just a few hundred yards away, a drive-through. We might not need both of those. And that’s one way to make reductions.