Wells Fargo is expected to continue growing in Charlotte, which is “a wonderful market” for the San Francisco lender, its new Eastern U.S. community banking head said Tuesday.
“I see it as a growing city. I see it as a place that we’ll continue to invest adding team members to meet the needs of customers here,” Michelle Lee said in her first interview with the Observer since taking her new role last fall.
The Charlotte region is home to roughly 23,000 Wells Fargo employees, making it the company’s largest employment hub. According to Wells Fargo, that figure is up from about 22,700 last year. Lee declined to say by how much that figure might grow.
Lee, 53, replaced Laura Schulte, who retired after having filled the Charlotte-based position following Wells Fargo’s 2008 acquisition of Wachovia.
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In her new position, Lee is responsible for about 2,700 Wells Fargo branches and more than 31,000 employees in 14 states and Washington, D.C.
Lee began her banking career as a teller for a Wells Fargo predecessor company. Banks still need tellers, she says.
Some banks, including Wells Fargo, have been experimenting with smaller branches that lack traditional teller windows. Those come at a time when banks’ customers are increasingly using automated teller machines, smartphones and other devices for their transactions.
“I wouldn’t say that teller lines are going away,” Lee said. “Seventy-five percent of our customers still visit our branches at least once every six months.”
In January, Lee relocated to the Charlotte area from New Jersey, where she was head of community banking for Wells Fargo’s Northeast region.
As former head of Wachovia’s East Coast retail bank operations, Lee said she feels familiar with Charlotte, having traveled to the region for business trips.
Lee, who originally planned to be an opera singer before going into banking, said one of the first things she did after moving to Charlotte was attend Opera Carolina’s opening-night performance of “Turandot.”
“It’s one of the things that’s really attractive about Charlotte: It’s rich in arts and culture, and I see myself engaging in that.”
Here’s what Lee said on other issues:
▪ She describes her leadership style as “servant leadership.” She said the leaders who have left the biggest impression on her over the years are those who, among other things, can connect with people, are emotionally intelligent and can build a “culture of inclusiveness.”
▪ Wells Fargo’s push over the years to increase the number of products purchased by existing customers has led to claims the lender has opened credit lines or accounts for customers without their permission, as employees tried to meet quotas.
Asked about that, Lee said: “Our vision is to help our customers succeed financially...Our mission is never to sell a customer anything that they don’t have a need for.”