2 min read November 2022 — In an interview with Invest:, Laura Oberst, executive vice president & head of the central region for Commercial Banking at Wells Fargo, talked about some of the highlights for Wells Fargo over the last year, including the return to working in the office and being able to reinvigorate the bank’s employee culture. Oberst also discussed the adoption of technology and the issues that are impacting the nation as well as the Twin Cities.
What have been some recent highlights for Wells Fargo in the Twin Cities?
The biggest highlight was the transition from working from home to returning to the office. The biggest challenge we have had is bringing teams back together in the office to rebuild our culture. We are finally getting into a rhythm of collaboration that is also flexible. I am concerned though about the impacts of winter on that, especially when it comes to transportation. However, it is important to build that camaraderie, especially for newer employees who have casual questions that are easier to ask and answer when you are in person.
A highlight of the pandemic that pushed us forward was the adoption of technology. From customers to team members, it accelerated the financial services industry. We are highly regulated, unlike many fintechs, so we had to figure out how we could serve our customer base. Fintechs have been disruptors to the industry so for us to remain relevant, we have to stay on top of technology and related tools.
What challenges has Wells Fargo been preparing in the market?
Businesses have been dealing with inflation and supply chain issues since the beginning of the pandemic. Some of the supply chain issues are getting better but we need to be very mindful of higher interest rates and the stresses that will create on different industries. Companies are still faring well and have been moving through cycles better than I had seen pre-pandemic. I have been with the institution for 35 years so I have seen different cycles like the 2008 financial crisis and there are a lot of common themes that come with different twists but most issues have been experienced before. We are watching the trends and looking at the best ways we can help clients with tools to help manage their cash flow. That is an area in which we have been a leader.
I would also mention the labor market, which isn’t getting any better anywhere. It is not as frantic as it was at the beginning of the year but it is still tight. Innovation and automation that can fill the gaps of once manual roles are critical to financial services at the moment.
What makes the Twin Cities such a great market?
Business leaders have always collaborated to solve problems as a group without political bias. Respected organizations like Greater MSP and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce help create awareness about Minnesota and its dynamic metropolitan areas. They focus on branding and provide resources and insights about what makes it a great place for businesses and families, including the education ecosystem and healthcare.
One of the things I am very proud of is that the five larger banks in the area have an informal group that meets regularly to see what we can do collectively to be a game changer by addressing critical issues within the community. From that group, we helped launch the first 100%-owned Black and African American bank in the Twin Cities, called First Independence. Wells Fargo was very involved in helping that get launched and they recently opened a second location. Through other organizations like the state chambers and the Greater MSP, we all come together to think about the larger community and how we can help it thrive.
What is your outlook for the next two to three years?
The priorities we have for commercial banking are focused on investing in our people and our communities. We want to employ the best people, so we are investing in training programs and are redesigning and developing an early talent program that I hope will be the best in the industry. We need to have a platform that is inclusive and will attract the best people. One of the other initiatives is further growing our diverse segment client base, deepening our connection with ethnically owned businesses, veterans, LGBTQ and women-owned and -led companies.
We have experienced attrition and retirements so we are rebuilding our teams, training new people and leveraging technology to enhance our efficiency and improve customer experience. Especially for the frontline team, we want to provide them with the tools to help our customers grow by leveraging the vast scale, resources and capabilities that Wells Fargo has to offer.
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