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First-time African American homeowner Darlene Ahmed adjusts a hanging plant on the front porch of her house
Darlene Ahmed at her home in Fruitland Park, Florida.

How a conversation with a banker led to a new home

Darlene Ahmed thought she may have to put her homeownership plans on hold until a series of Wells Fargo financial health conversations cleared the way.

March 14, 2019

Editor’s note: A version of this story also appeared in the 2018 Wells Fargo Annual Report.


Walking up to her three-bedroom, two-bath house in Fruitland Park, Florida, Darlene Ahmed sometimes feels like pinching herself so she knows her life isn’t a dream.

That’s because, not very long ago, her credit score was so low she couldn’t qualify for a mortgage. After renting an apartment for many years, she had decided to become a homeowner as an empty nester. Always financially secure, she wasn’t aware of the implications of a thin credit history.

But a conversation with a Wells Fargo financial health banker, combined with Ahmed’s commitment and determination, changed everything and made homeownership a reality for her.

Created in 2015 for customers who request special help to save more or strengthen their credit when they call Wells Fargo, the Financial Health Conversations program is in addition to digital technologies that make banking faster and easier.

 

First-time African American homeowner Darlene Ahmed adjusts a hanging plant on the front porch of her house
Ahmed, a certified nursing assistant in an assisted-living facility, began her journey to owning a home in October 2017.

The program builds on thousands of other daily interactions between bankers, financial advisors, home mortgage consultants, and other team members with customers with the same goal: offering service and advice that meets customer needs, exceeds their expectations, and changes lives.

From unapproved to preapproved

Ahmed, a certified nursing assistant in an assisted-living facility, began her journey to owning a home in October 2017. After raising her daughter, the 57-year-old was ready to put down roots and buy her first home. She called Wells Fargo to get preapproved, and was stunned when she was denied.

“I was shocked when I heard what my credit score was. When they asked me if I would like to talk to a financial health banker about ways I could improve my credit, I said, ‘Absolutely.’"

— Darlene Ahmed

Ahmed hadn’t realized what having no credit cards, loans, or lines of credit meant for her credit history and credit score.

“I was shocked when I heard what my credit score was,” Ahmed said. “When they asked me if I would like to talk to a financial health banker about ways I could improve my credit, I said, ‘Absolutely.’” Her call was transferred to Financial Health Banker Dustin Griffin with the Financial Health Conversations program in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Through the program, Griffin and other financial health bankers at contact centers in Sioux Falls; Charlotte, North Carolina; Phoenix, Arizona; Richmond, Virginia; and San Antonio, Texas and El Monte, California, (which also serve Spanish-speaking customers) have helped nearly 50,000 customers learn to save more and strengthen their credit.

To build her credit history, Ahmed followed Griffin’s advice and applied for a few credit cards — paying off all purchases on time and never using more than 30 percent of the available balances. Griffin also gave her other tips, such as being added as an authorized user to a family member’s gas card.

By May 2018, Ahmed was ready to submit another application, and this time the answer was different. Scott Lineberry, a Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Consultant in West Des Moines, Iowa, got to deliver the good news that Ahmed now qualified for a mortgage loan.

She found her dream home a week later.

“I got the call on my birthday that they had accepted my offer and the house soon would be mine,” said Ahmed. “I’m grateful to God and Wells Fargo for this house and opportunity.”

“For me, every person is a new story,” Lineberry said. “To hear the excitement in Darlene’s voice when she heard her turnaround was complete, and that she was now preapproved and could go find a home was so rewarding. Dustin and the Financial Health team provide such a great service for our customers. I’m glad we were able to make that moment possible for her.”

Ahmed moved into her house — complete with a pool and fireplace — on June 22, 2018.

“Dustin was right there for me every step of the way, and gave me peace of mind, confidence, and guidance — from when I first found out about my credit, improved it, qualified, and got the loan to when he called to congratulate me after I closed and moved in. It’s been an amazing ride.”

Mary Mack, head of Consumer Banking, said Ahmed’s story is repeated countless times across Wells Fargo and its businesses every day as the company makes changes to improve the experiences of customers no matter when, how, or where they choose to bank with Wells Fargo.

“Everything we do starts with a customer like Darlene and what they want to accomplish,” she said.

Forming a ‘real bond and connection’ with customers

Evan Siegel of Wells Fargo Virtual Channels created the Financial Health Conversations program in 2015 after having a financial conversation with his father-in-law, who had just become a widower and was considering a cross-country move to live closer to Siegel’s family in California.

First-time African American homeowner Darlene Ahmed stands on the porch of her new home wearing a multicolored jacket and holding a potted plant
Ahmed moved into her house — complete with a pool and fireplace — on June 22, 2018.

“We just talked about what was required to make that happen financially,” Siegel said. “He did everything himself. I just asked the right questions.”

With more than three times the bankers it had at its creation, Siegel said the Financial Health Conversations program continues to grow, with more than 400 conversations weekly with customers, high satisfaction scores, and almost no turnover.

“I am just so blown away by how many customers we have helped and the commitment of the team,” he said. “Just like bankers in our branch, financial advisors with Wells Fargo Advisors, home mortgage consultants, and others serving customers at Wells Fargo, the Financial Health Banker team truly views it as mission-based work, and loves helping their customers and drawing on their own journeys of personal financial health and things they do that work well to help and inspire others.”

Griffin, who became a first-time homeowner himself in 2017 and remembered his own financial struggles, took the position of financial health banker because of its focus on helping people improve their financial health with no strings attached.

“So many people comment on how surprised they are that we offer financial health as a free service to customers and noncustomers alike,” Griffin said. “It’s important to me to not just give out the information, but to form a real bond and connection with my customers like Darlene.

“Once she figured out what it was she wanted, and I laid out a clear path for her to get there, there was no stopping her! She found a goal she wanted to achieve in life — owning a home — and I did my best to support her goal, encourage it, and make clear to her that I understood why that was her goal, and that I genuinely wanted to help her achieve it. I couldn’t be happier for her.”

Read other featured stories in our Annual Report special section.

Contributors: Howard Greenberg and Christopher Frers
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