Billy Howie’s life brims with signs of change — moving boxes on the living room floor of his new townhouse, incomplete to-do lists on the kitchen counter, and a new insurance card in the glove compartment of his car.
In one way or another, the homeowner in Charlotte, North Carolina, said all the signs of his new life point back to last fall, during a phone call with Wells Fargo Financial Health Banker Junisha “Jubilee” Diming in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“I was just walking through the world, paying my bills and not paying much attention to where my money was really going and how much I was wasting — until Jubilee and I went over it together,” said Howie, a truck driver whose route takes him from Charlotte to Atlanta each night.
Improving financial health
Since January 2015, specially trained Wells Fargo Financial Health Bankers in the company’s contact centers have had more than 15,000 savings and credit conversations with customers like Howie who want to take action and make meaningful financial changes in their lives to improve their financial health — whether budgeting, saving, eliminating debt, or strengthening credit.
“Our talk was the best thing that ever happened to me.” — Billy Howie
Evan Siegel, who, as head of contact center strategy for Wells Fargo Virtual Channels, leads the team that created the Financial Health Conversations program, said the talks have several sources.
Customers can initiate the conversations by clicking on a link in Wells Fargo’s new Daily Change app (which uses game-design elements to help them learn savings basics, make transfers to a savings account, set goals and watch balances grow), or the company’s Financial Health website. But the main way Diming and her teammates get the calls, he said, is through referrals from other calls. That could be a conversation about a mortgage or other Wells Fargo product.
If they’re having trouble saving, Siegel said, the phone banker will say something like, “ ‘Based on what you have told me about your aim to save more, you may benefit from prioritizing a few strategies to increase your savings potential. Would you be interested in forming a savings plan with one of our Financial Health Bankers by having a conversation about your savings goals and spending routines?’ If they answer ‘yes,’ they’ll connect the customer with a Financial Health Banker.”
“I love hearing about people who say, for the first time in their lives, they have control of their finances, or an emergency fund for the rainy days and curves life throws at us sometimes,” Siegel said. “That’s what the Financial Health Conversations program is all about.
Diming is one of 83 Financial Health Bankers (including 25 for Spanish-speaking customers) who serve customers nationwide from Wells Fargo contact centers in Sioux Falls; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; El Monte, California; and Richmond, Virginia. The Financial Health Bankers have helped shape the program with their feedback, including questions that have made the conversations more interactive and educational to put customers at ease.
“When Billy and I talked and looked at his spending, we discussed his debt-to-income ratio and he paid off two credit cards and boosted his monthly savings significantly in just a few months,” Diming said.
After taking a look at his expenses, Howie said he also decided to shop rates and services he’d had with the same companies for years. As a result, he changed auto insurers and phone companies, trimmed his cable TV costs by cutting sports and other premium channels, and tweaked the timetable of automatic payments he set up to smooth out cash-flow issues.
Those changes saved him more than $300 a month.
“Our talk was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Howie said. “It came at a great time as I was right in the middle of trying to buy this townhouse. Now I’m paying attention to my bank account and I continue to find new ways to save every day.”
Satisfaction scores from Financial Health Conversations is nearly 11 points higher than other types of customer interactions, Siegel said, such as those customers have with phone bankers about products. He said customers report saving more and reaching other goals, and the program has gone over so well that Wells Fargo is creating a new, full-time “Financial Health Banker” position and eyeing plans for possible expansions.
“Financial Health Conversations is for anyone who says they want to increase their savings or improve credit,” Siegel said. “We designed the program to deepen customer relationships by addressing something we know is very important to our customers — their financial health — and are thrilled to hear back from them that we’re doing just that.”
Wells Fargo’s Financial Health Conversations program has roots in Siegel’s own family.
A self-described “super-zealous saver” who developed the habit during some lean times in his 20s while starting a business, Siegel said he first got the idea about a dedicated Financial Health cadre of contact center bankers when his father-in-law became a widower and wanted to relocate near the Siegels in California from the East Coast.
“I sat down with him and interviewed him and built a cash-flow model for how he could financially make the move he wanted to make,” Siegel said. “He was thrilled, and had no trouble ironing out the details and filling in the blanks when asked the right questions.”
Siegel wanted to bring the same conversation to customers, so he took his idea to work, testing it out at the contact center in Sioux Falls. Phone bankers used Wells Fargo’s My Spending Report and other money-management tools to analyze their own saving and spending.
“One of the people in the development team approached me and said the Financial Health Conversations he’d had during testing sparked him to commit to saving through the company’s 401(k) plan for the first time in his career,” Siegel said.
“His story showed us that we were onto something, and we had bankers analyze their own finances as part of the program. When they talk to customers, they quote their own experiences and how they have improved their own financial health. And while we started this before the retail bank eliminated sales goals, launched a new compensation program, and took other steps to move from a sales to a service culture, these Financial Health Conversations align perfectly with that direction and customer focus.”
So far, contact center team members like Diming who apply to join the Financial Health Banker call team and receive the specialized training balance their Financial Health Conversations with calls about products.
“When I heard about the Financial Health Conversations program, I knew it was something I wanted to be involved in,” said Diming, who joined Wells Fargo in November 2014.
“Right before we say goodbye, people will say things like, ‘This has been one of the most beneficial conversations I’ve had with a bank,’ or, ‘I’m excited about the savings plan we came up with today,’ ” Diming said. “The conversations I have had with customers like Billy are incredibly rewarding, and they’re of so much value to me in my own life because I too want to improve my financial health.”