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Digital disaster relief: Banking technology helps communities recover

Wells Fargo ATMs have helped the American Red Cross deliver relief to millions of individuals since 2007, when the machines first accepted donations to help California residents after devastating wildfires. Now, new technology will get donations to the people who need them even faster.

September 26, 2017

Realtor Keri Akemi-Bezayiff cringed when she saw the television images of wildfire flames roaring down the mountain toward her client’s neighborhood in northern California.

Unsure whether her client’s home had been destroyed, and wanting to help, Akemi-Bezayiff dropped off clothes for wildfire victims at a local shelter and then headed to her Wells Fargo branch in Sonoma, California. The reason? To make an ATM donation for wildfire relief to the American Red Cross.

Since 2007, Wells Fargo customers have had the ability to make ATM donations (with a $249.99 limit per transaction) to help the Red Cross provide food, clothing, and other assistance after floods, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other disasters.

Customer making ATM donation with machine screens showing message for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The message that ran on all Wells Fargo ATM screens after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Back home, Akemi-Bezayiff took to social media to encourage others to follow her lead and make their own donations.

“It was very easy to do, and something I wanted to do to help,” she said of her donation to help victims of the Valley Fire — which burned more than 76,000 acres and destroyed nearly 2,000 structures in September 2015, making it the third-worst wildfire in California’s history.

Record response to help hurricane victims

Wells Fargo customers have donated more than $7 million via ATM contributions since the service began, and have already set a new record of support by donating more than $2 million to help the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma — the most donated after a disaster in a national campaign involving all of the company’s ATMs.

Previously, the $1.6 million donated after the 2011 tsunami in Japan held the record. The $304,063 donated by residents in California after the Valley Fire remains the most donated through ATMs in a particular state or region for a specific disaster.

Infographic showing disasters that Wells Fargo customers have donated the most for at the company's ATMs

“Our goal was to provide ATM customers with a quick, easy, and convenient way to donate,” said Mike Thomas, the product manager who launched Wells Fargo’s ATM donation service in 2007 after nearly two years of pilot testing.

“In 2007, the formal launch came when we responded to the Southern California wildfires with an ATM donation campaign supporting the Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts. I’m grateful to our customers for donating so generously over the years.”

Alicia Moore, head of the digital branch and ATMs for Wells Fargo’s ATM and Branch Banking business, said the company has run more than 40 emergency relief ATM campaigns to date for the Red Cross, including a new campaign for those affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico that began Sept. 28 and runs through Oct. 12.

“This service is very important to Wells Fargo, and we’re happy to help support communities across the country as they recover after disasters,” Moore said.

According to the Red Cross, the support from Wells Fargo customers and others has allowed the nonprofit — along with community and government partners — to provide more than 1 million overnight stays in the last month in emergency shelters for victims of hurricanes in Florida, Texas, and six other states, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Red Cross volunteers have also served more than 4.1 million meals and snacks, delivered mental health and health services to more than 121,000 people, and provided more than 1.4 million relief items in the past month.

“The Red Cross is working around the clock in very challenging conditions to help people impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma,” said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross. “We couldn’t do it without the generosity of our amazing donors — including Wells Fargo and its customers.”

Faster payments with ‘push-to-card’

Hurricane Harvey victims will soon be able to receive payments from the Red Cross even faster through Wells Fargo’s efforts to connect the nonprofit with Mastercard Send TM, a platform that facilitates the payments of disbursements securely to domestic customers. This service will enable the Red Cross to make real-time payments to qualified recipients directly to almost any personal account through a U.S. debit card. The Red Cross will evaluate using this capability for other disaster needs in the future.

Wells Fargo is the sole sponsor of this upcoming capability, known as push-to-card, which will be available to all U.S. debit card holders.

“Supporters like Wells Fargo empower the Red Cross to provide options for the public to give to help those impacted by these devastating storms,” said McGovern. “And now, with the launch of the push-to-card capability, we will be able to serve hundreds of thousands of households in need of direct financial assistance. We’re extremely grateful for their meaningful support of our humanitarian mission.”

McGovern said the Red Cross has already authorized more than $109 million in financial assistance to help more than 274,000 Texas households severely affected by Hurricane Harvey as of Sept. 25.

“We know that one way our team can contribute is by developing product innovations to help simplify the delivery of relief payments to impacted areas,” said Danny Peltz, head of Treasury, Merchant & Payment Solutions for Wells Fargo. “As the cleanup and recovery continues from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, we want to do all that we can to support the essential work of the American Red Cross in its disaster relief efforts.”

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