‘If everyone does their part, we’ll get through this’
A Los Angeles dentist gets mortgage payment relief from Wells Fargo to help his business survive amid COVID-19.
With the fight to stop the spread of COVID‑19 in California largely shuttering dental practices throughout the state, Dr. Pedram Sooferi knew he needed help. He visited the Wells Fargo branch on Stocker Street in Los Angeles to explore with Branch Manager Mario Holten options for his business and staff of about 40 people. He realized he would have to stop paying his home mortgage to free up cash for his four dental practices. “I have about 35 – 40 people that depend on me, and these people are very sensitive in terms of their jobs and payments,” Sooferi said. “Some are single moms. Some take care of other people in their family. Many can’t wait for the government to come in and help them out.
“As a business owner, COVID‑19 puts you in a very awkward situation — watching everything you built go away if the disease isn’t controlled, and you can’t get back to business as normal,” he said. “My wife is two months pregnant, and we have two other children, ages 1 and 5, and she’s concerned about my health and the possibility I could be infected. It’s a lot of stress.”
To help Sooferi return to business as quickly as possible, Holten stepped in and made the call himself to Wells Fargo Home Lending. He then called Sooferi back at home to finish the handoff, and Sooferi soon had an immediate 90-day suspension of his mortgage payments.
“Once I was able to contact the representative, I applied and was approved quickly,” Pooferi said. “From rent to other expenses, I’m looking at everything I can do to free up cash.”
Wells Fargo has deferred more than 700,000 payments for customers like Sooferi impacted by the COVID‑19 health crisis, representing almost $1.8 billion, and provided more than 750,000 fee waivers, exceeding $28 million, for those impacted.
In addition, the Wells Fargo Foundation is donating $175 million to nonprofits to help address food, shelter, small business, and housing stability issues and to aid public health organizations fighting to contain the spread of COVID‑19.
‘We’re here to help’
Since starting his career at Wells Fargo in 2013, Holten said he’s never experienced anything like the COVID‑19 health crisis. It has brought social distancing measures to his branch, more customers from two nearby locations that have closed temporarily, and customer questions he’s never heard before.
“It’s changed the way we navigate our lives, and while my team works to stay safe, keep our customers safe, and be there for them, we’re going through the same emotions and experiencing the same circumstances.” — Mario Holten, Wells Fargo branch manager
“People are concerned and want to know if their money is safe, so we have used FDIC brochures to explain how the federal deposit insurance program works,” he said. “This pandemic impacts every aspect of our lives, and we all know someone who has been personally affected.
“With the wildfires, you still could go get your hair cut, go to a restaurant or movie theater, and go on about your life in the usual way,” Holten said. “Not with this. It’s changed the way we navigate our lives, and while my team works to stay safe, keep our customers safe, and be there for them, we’re going through the same emotions and experiencing the same circumstances.
“I’m telling my kids — 10 and 15 — who have never been through anything like this, ‘Stay calm, the world is not ending, we’re going to get through this,’” Holten said. “It’s the same message we’re trying to give our customers each day, like Pedram, who are glad we’re here to help.”
These days, Sooferi still goes out to his dental practices — just not as often.
“We’re keeping the offices open for emergencies only,” he said. “It’s definitely not paying the bills, but keeping some people out of the hospitals. Patients are in pain, and if you’ve ever had severe tooth pain, you know it can’t be ignored.”
A self-described pessimist, Sooferi said his cup-half-empty view has served him well in business — steeling him first through the financial crisis he experienced as a new dentist after his graduation from UCLA in 2008, and now COVID‑19.
“But I understand others don’t act and feel the same way. They need hope and positivity, so I’ve tried to bring that to my staff and have sat down and talked to each one about their own financial situation and options. This is a virus that is very potent,” he said.
“How much impact this will have on the economy is unknown, and a bit scary. If everyone does their part, we’ll get through this.”