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Responding to the shutdown, one customer at a time

As a growing number of customers find themselves in a financial jam amid the partial government shutdown, Wells Fargo has mobilized to help meet their financial needs.

January 24, 2019

Penny Strang’s voice wavered with emotion on the phone as she told her bank about her predicament. With her work and pay in limbo due to the partial government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture worker said she had no money coming in and bills were piling up.

“When I realized there was no end in sight to this thing, that’s when I started panicking,” recalled the USDA finance manager in Colorado. “It was really tough. At one point, I was almost in tears, trying to figure out what to do. I knew I needed to make some changes in my financial situation to keep things from sliding out of control.”

Strang called her bank for help. In a matter of minutes, she reached Karoline Pohorelec, a Wells Fargo Financial Health banker in North Phoenix, Arizona, specially trained to help customers across the spectrum of their needs, including spending, saving, borrowing, investing, bill paying, or buying a house.

“Our thoughts are with the government employees. Wells Fargo hopes to lessen the financial impact on our affected customers while also providing individual assistance for their unique needs.”

— CEO Tim Sloan

Crunching the numbers, Pohorelec soon came up with a personal loan solution that addressed Strang’s needs: It gave her extra cash as a cushion to pay her bills, consolidated her debt at a lower interest rate, and put her in a better place financially than before, Strang said.

“Karoline addressed my biggest need, giving me confidence that I can go forward and get through this thing now,” she said. “It definitely put my mind at ease.”

Similar stories are playing out across the U.S. as Wells Fargo has responded to help a growing number of customers who find themselves in a financial jam because of the record shutdown, now in its second month.

Earlier this month, the company detailed the relief it is offering affected customers. This included proactively waiving certain fees for customers whom Wells Fargo verified had their federal government payroll check direct deposited into a Wells Fargo account in November 2018. The bank can also waive certain fees and provide payment assistance for affected customers who directly contact the bank

As of Jan. 22, Wells Fargo has provided more than $2.6 million in fee waivers to customers affected by the government shutdown, according to company figures. In addition, more than 14,000 customers have requested payment assistance, including 30-day payment relief on non-home lending consumer products and 90-day short-term forbearance for home lending, mortgage, and home equity.

Mobilizing to assist affected customers

Branches and call centers from Washington, D.C., to California, have reported a wide range of customer issues. In Vienna, Virginia, an FBI agent cashed out an IRA to help make ends meet; near Rochester, Minnesota, a federal prison facilities technician worried about making his next mortgage payment; and in Las Vegas, a Transportation Security Administration officer signed up for food stamps to help feed her family.

Wells Fargo has mobilized its team members across business lines to assist affected customers with any area of financial need that they have, CEO Tim Sloan said in a statement announcing the company’s donation of $250,000 to help the United Way create the United for U.S. Coalition. The nonprofit is focusing on assisting federal workers facing hardships as a result of the shutdown.

“Our thoughts are with the government employees,” he said. “Wells Fargo hopes to lessen the financial impact on our affected customers while also providing individual assistance for their unique needs.”

In addition to offering banking solutions, Wells Fargo team members are finding other ways to help federal workers, such as donating to nonprofits and volunteering direct assistance. In Las Vegas, for example, team members helped provide meals to TSA airport workers who are working without pay.

For many of the workers, however, the biggest concern is paying their mortgage, said Kara Martin, a mortgage specialist in the town of Waseca, in southeastern Minnesota. She described a customer, furloughed from his job as a facilities technician for a nearby federal prison.

“He came in worried, very worried, about his home, mortgage, and family,” she said. “He didn’t know what he was going to do. He didn’t have a plan.”

In just a few minutes, Martin and branch manager Michelle Meyer sat down with the customer and worked with him to come up with a plan that included a 90-day short-term payment plan for his mortgage payment.

“He was very thankful,” Martin said, “and grateful that the company was so much ahead of this situation and had a solution for him.”

‘Our job is to let people know they can rely on their bank’

As they have worked with affected customers, team members across the company report a stronger sense of empathy for what federal workers and those impacted, like contractors or small businesses, are going through.

“They are anxious. It is 911 time for them now,” says Tandra White, who manages the company’s Military Banking Contact Center in San Antonio.

As the paychecks have stopped coming for the 800,000 furloughed federal workers, Wells Fargo’s call centers and branches are expecting to hear from more and more customers, said Pohorelec.

“We often hear from customers in distress, whether they are victims of wildfires in California, or hurricanes in Texas,” she said. “Whatever is going on nationally, we hear about it, like now with the government shutdown. To me, it is so good to be in a position to just pick up the phone and really be able to help people.”

Pohorelec has family members who work for the federal government, so she has seen firsthand what the impact has been. “For many of them, it’s just starting to hit home,” she said. “Our job is to let people know they can rely on their bank, and there is help available to get them through this.”

How Wells Fargo is helping customers affected by the shutdown:

If you are a federal government employee or someone who is affected by the government shutdown, call 800-219-9739, or visit any Wells Fargo branch for assistance.

Contributors: Wayne Thompson, Amanda Halbersma and Christopher Frers
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