Unlocking Insights: Banking Inclusion

Four years ago, the nation saw a shift as corporations and brands publicly announced their commitments to ensure that all marginalized individuals and communities were seen and heard through the introduction of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. While many of those efforts and departments are shrinking rapidly, Wells Fargo—one of the country’s top financial institutions—is letting it be known that their efforts were never performative but positioned for the long haul and, in fact, began long before that time. 

“There’s no doubt that these are very turbulent times, there is a lot of change and volatility,” Kristy Fercho, Senior Executive Vice President and Head of Diverse Segments, Representation and Inclusion for Wells Fargo, tells EBONY. “We are steadfast and have known all along that DE&I is a long-term commitment. We’re undeterred by the thing of the moment.”

Fercho joined Wells Fargo in 2020, during the height of some of the nation’s most unprecedented moments. We were navigating a global pandemic as well as the consequences of social injustices, and she came on board to first head the bank’s home lending division before moving on to her current role. 

Now, the University of Southern California graduate is leading the charge and working to ensure that all communities are fairly served and positioned for success, especially financial success. 

While her responsibilities can look different on a day-to-day basis, a large part of her role is driven by Wells Fargo’s three strategic pillars: increasing diverse representation at every level including the board, growing and serving diverse customer segments and increasing the spend with diverse suppliers. It’s about taking these pillars and implementing tangible steps and actions to bring these priorities to life for the company.

“At Wells Fargo, we seek to increase representation at all levels of the organization and integrate diverse perspectives in the company culture so that everyone feels seen and heard in their job,” Fercho says.

“In my role, specifically within diverse segments, I focus on all the underserved people in communities of color and other communities that have essentially been locked out of or experienced obstacles navigating the financial system,” Fercho explained. “There was a recognition that we needed to continue prioritizing those diverse customer segments.”

A recurring theme that manifests in Fercho’s work is community. It’s what drives many of the company’s initiatives that aid marginalized groups, especially the Black community. “We’re very intentional about addressing some of those systemic inequities that have existed and have had a disproportionate impact on the Black community,” Fercho explains.

“Homeownership is near and dear to my heart, and throughout my career I’ve been passionate about it, as it’s the cornerstone of the American dream. It’s the best tool for generational wealth building in this country. Here at Wells Fargo, we’ve developed Special Purpose Credit Programs (SPCP), which initially focused on Black customers in our portfolios who ultimately hadn’t refinanced to take advantage of the lower interest rates. We brought down their interest rate to put them essentially below market rates. We paid closing costs and really supported those customers. It was so successful that we expanded to focus on our Hispanic customers, too.”

Other SPCPs and key diverse initiatives the company has implemented within major communities of color, specifically around home loans and homeownership, are its Homebuyer Access Grant, which is a $10,000 grant that can go toward a down payment. There is also Dream. Plan. Home. ℠, which is a 3% down payment program and the Dream. Plan. Home. ℠ Closing Cost Credit program, which offers an additional $5,000 for homebuyers to leverage. 

“What’s exciting about that is we’ve invested over $250 million to do that.”

Of course, Wells Fargo can’t do this alone. The company relies heavily on and invests in local partners and non-profits to ensure that eligible customers are aware of the programs available, while also educating them.

In addition to the creation of these instrumental homeownership programs that greatly benefit underserved groups, there has also been a needed push for educating the unbanked community on affordable and accessible banking services available to them. According to a recent survey conducted by the FDIC, 5.9 million households currently don’t have bank accounts.

That’s where Wells Fargo’s Banking Inclusion Initiative comes in. The initiative was established to empower marginalized individuals within the Black, Hispanic, and Native American communities who may not have a traditional bank account or have limited banking resources. The goal is to help them make informed financial decisions and start establishing generational wealth.

Through the Banking Inclusion Initiative, Wells Fargo offers unbanked consumers easier access to low-cost banking options and financial education services. This includes Clear Access Banking, a low-cost account with no overdraft fees, and free financial coaching conducted by a HOPE Inside financial coach at existing Wells Fargo branches.

“When you think of establishing wealth, that’s hard for unbanked individuals to do from scratch, especially with high-cost, non-bank alternatives available like check cashing services or payday loans. The reliance on these costly alternatives often results in significant lifetime fees, estimated at around $40,000, causing a potential loss of $360,000 in lifetime generational wealth. This 10-year initiative was designed to break down some of the myths and barriers that exist around traditional banking services. But it’s also about helping people understand the importance of getting a bank account and how to start investing in themselves and their future to build that wealth,” she shares.

Wells Fargo understands that this work doesn’t just start and end solely with these initiatives. It’s a long game for Fercho and her team, and she’s more than prepared to underscore the company’s unwavering commitment to diversity.

“We have a legacy of doing this. We are really focused on the fact that, as a large banking institution, we have the skills, resources and expertise to make a difference in these communities. If not us, then who? It really is the right thing to do, and we simply want to lean in and make a difference.”

“There’s so much shame around finances, but the message is, you don’t have to stay there,” Fercho adds. “I just want to help people move past that shame and move to this space of establishing financial independence. There’s freedom in that.”

Updated: May 20, 2024 — 6:03 pm