Financial Health
October 20, 2022

Building hope from the inside

Financial coaches are creating lasting change in communities across the country from within Wells Fargo branches as part of a collaboration with Operation HOPE.

Two men in dark suits stand in a branch having a conversation.
Dr. Joaquin Wallace (right), a financial well-being coach with Operation HOPE, is meeting with clients — typically unbanked or underbanked people — at a HOPE Inside center inside a Wells Fargo branch in Oakland, California, as part of a Banking Inclusion Initiative collaboration.

Just a couple years ago, Tiffanya Richardson was “financially surviving” — but not thriving. She paid her bills on time, but she didn’t check her credit score or make progress on debt.

There wasn’t a plan for her money to take her anywhere. That changed when she met Dr. Joaquin Wallace, a financial well-being coach with Operation HOPE.

“Dr. Wallace helped me see [that] you need to have a vision and a real understanding of your finances,” she said. “I feel like [he] really takes the time to meet you where you are and [help you] feel safe to disclose where you are [financially]. From that place, he helps you implement a framework to totally revitalize your financial health. That’s big. That’s what we all need to be empowered and effect change.”

These days, Wallace spends much of his week talking with clients like Richardson at the Oakland Main Wells Fargo branch in his hometown of Oakland, California.

As part of a collaboration with Atlanta-based nonprofit Operation HOPE, Wells Fargo plans to introduce HOPE Inside centers in 20 markets that will serve as many as 150 Wells Fargo branches and their surrounding communities across the United States by the end of 2023 — with coaches currently in the Oakland, Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Phoenix markets. This program, which includes free financial coaching and educational workshops, is the latest progress in Wells Fargo’s Banking Inclusion Initiative, a 10-year commitment that began in 2021 to better connect people who are unbanked and underbanked to financial guidance and affordable mainstream banking products.

It's financial coaching that Darlene Goins, head of the Banking Inclusion Initiative, believes will be key to connecting people with the tools they need to better manage their money.

“Having coaches go out and hold financial education workshops, either at our branches or at community organizations, is the way that the door opens to people being more comfortable engaging in one-on-one financial coaching,” she said. “[Financial coaching] is where we really see people start to reduce their debt, improve their credit scores, save for emergencies, and build wealth. Having that coaching available is what’s really going to drive the broader community’s ability to advance economically.”

Meet the trust builder

Before joining the HOPE Inside centers in Wells Fargo branches, Wallace was Operation HOPE’s financial coach for the San Francisco 49ers, which had a partnership with the nonprofit. Whether they’re high-profile athletes or not, many of his clients have similar experiences with their personal finances.

“I’ve often had [clients] … who would have all their money in their top drawer. … They didn’t trust the banking system,” he said. “I firmly believe that once we’re able to address our financial issues, our financial trauma, and the things that we grew up with … it gives us a chance to level the playing field. Education is key to that.”

For financial coaches in Wells Fargo’s HOPE Inside centers, that education often begins with an introduction via the branch, community outreach, or other clients. Once someone meets with Wallace, he talks to them about what their goals are and sets objectives for how to get there. From there, an action plan tailored to their goals — there are no “cookie-cutter” plans, he said — puts them on a path toward progress, whether that’s establishing better financial habits, making a milestone purchase, or starting a business. That typically starts with the three pillars that Operation HOPE focuses on: increasing savings, boosting credit scores, and reducing debt.

“[Financial coaching] is where we really see people start to reduce their debt, improve their credit scores, save for emergencies, and build wealth. Having that coaching available is what’s really going to drive the broader community’s ability to advance economically.” — Darlene Goins, head of the Banking Inclusion Initiative

Wallace, an author and former professor, pulls lessons from his lifelong dedication to teaching to benefit his clients, who are also members of the community he grew up in. As Wallace sees it, his role is to help them improve their own finances by building better habits. By enhancing their financial literacy, holding them accountable, and meeting them where they’re at, he puts his clients in positions to make powerful changes in their lives.

“I always say that it’s a 50-50 relationship. I only can do so much, but you have to meet me halfway,” he said.

For Richardson, one-on-one financial coaching with Wallace not only changed her financial picture, but her housing situation, too. Because of his guidance and her commitment to turn around her finances, she was able to boost her credit score, save money, and — ultimately — buy a home for her and her daughter.

“[Coaching] empowered me to have a vision for where I want to go, [to have] a vision for my daughter, right? My legacy. And I’m a life coach, so with my clients and my community, [I’m] teaching the skills that I’ve learned to the people who I influence,” she said. “If you’re [just] surviving, you don’t have time to plan because [you’re] always putting out a fire, [but] because I’ve been able to get stable … I’m in a position where I can better plan.”