Banking

Wells Fargo changes employee donation plan. It will help more charities, the bank says

Documentary: 10 years after saving Wachovia, Wells Fargo faces its own troubles

Charlotte, North Carolina based Wachovia was sold to Wells Fargo 10 years ago at the peak of the 2008 economic recession. With the major banking business now facing its own financial struggles, people wonder if Wachovia could have survived.
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Charlotte, North Carolina based Wachovia was sold to Wells Fargo 10 years ago at the peak of the 2008 economic recession. With the major banking business now facing its own financial struggles, people wonder if Wachovia could have survived.

Wells Fargo is ending a program in which it matched employees’ financial contributions to schools, and replacing it with a program the bank said will benefit a broader range of charities.

The San Francisco bank, which has a major presence in Charlotte, said it plans this year to eliminate the schools program, which for years matched employees’ cash gifts to schools, colleges and other educational groups. Under that program, the bank matched up to $5,000 per employee annually.

Wells Fargo said its new program, which launched last week, supplies cash grants if employees donate money not only to schools but also many other nonprofits. Employees then choose where to direct the grants among more than 100,000 charities worldwide, the bank said.

Employees will have other ways to access the grants, the bank said. For example, grants will be awarded when employees participate in volunteer projects or serve on the board of a nonprofit.

The new program caps total grants per employee at $2,000 a year, a reduction from the $5,000 match under the old program.

Mike Rizer, head of community relations for Wells, called the new program an evolution in how Wells Fargo employees can make charitable contributions. The bank said the new program is based on employee feedback and provides workers with more flexibility than the old program.

“It overall gives our team members lots more opportunities and ways to give beyond just a dollar-for-dollar match,” Rizer said.

The changes come as Wells Fargo is pushing to reduce costs and recover from a series of scandals, including 2016 revelations that employees had opened millions of accounts without customer permission to meet unrealistic sales goals.

The bank’s struggles to move past those scandals toppled CEO Tim Sloan, who abruptly announced his retirement last month.

Rizer said the new program, called Community Care Grants, is not a cost-cutting move.

He noted that the Wells Fargo Foundation, the bank’s charitable arm, has budgeted $32 million for the program. That’s up from approximately $22 million a year in matches under the old program, he said.

Rizer said the move follows a banking industry trend. “We came to this based on a lot of research of our peers.”

Money for volunteering

In one key change under the new program, Wells Fargo will award grants when employees log volunteer activities.

Grants start at $50 for the first time that employees record volunteer hours for the year. Larger grants are awarded for more volunteer hours. The bank said it will also award a $500 grant for each nonprofit board on which an employee serves.

Wells Fargo employees who might not be able to participate physically in volunteer activities would still be eligible for grants in exchange for online volunteer work, said Carrie Wolter, who manages the new grant program for Wells Fargo.

As for grants in exchange for employees’ monetary donations, the bank will award those around its annual Community Support Campaign in September, Wolter said.

‘Overwhelming positive’

The old program, Educational Matching Gifts, grew out of Wells Fargo’s 2008 acquisition of Charlotte’s Wachovia, Wolter said.

That plan was a hybrid of programs the banks had at the time of the acquisition, she said. According to Wells, it has had a similar matching program since the 1970s and Wachovia had one since the 1980s.

Wolter said the old program won’t be retired until the end of this year.

In the Charlotte metro area, the bank employs about 25,700 people, making the region Wells’ largest employment hub.

Employees have said they like the new program, Rizer said. “The response has been overwhelming positive,” he said.

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Deon Roberts has covered Charlotte’s financial services industry for The Charlotte Observer since 2013. His beat includes Bank of America and Wells Fargo. He attended Loyola University in New Orleans and is a native of Lafitte, La.
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