Hurricane Matthew damage on Florida coast
A driver faces a downed tree as Hurricane Matthew moves up the Florida coast. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
Photo: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
Hurricane Matthew damage on Florida coast
A driver faces a downed tree as Hurricane Matthew moves up the Florida coast. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
Photo: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
Inside the Stagecoach
March 8, 2017

Service in the storm: Cash delivery helps Florida county brace for the worst

Some quick Wells Fargo teamwork helped one community financially prepare for a potentially devastating storm.

Leslie Ross was enjoying a balmy day in Minneapolis when a phone call thrust him into a crisis hundreds of miles away.

Ross, a branch services product manager for Wells Fargo Treasury Management, learned from a client service representative that one of Wells Fargo’s Government and Institutional Banking customers — St. Lucie County, Florida — needed money, and fast.

He quickly pulled together all the groups at Wells Fargo involved in cash shipments, deliveries, and bank branch operations to find a way to meet the county’s emergency cash need.

Leslie Ross at his workstation in Minneapolis
Leslie Ross at work in Minneapolis where he coordinated efforts to help St. Lucie County as Hurricane Matthew approached.

Ross’ quick thinking in the face of a potential crisis recently earned him a Wells Fargo “Culture of Yes” award. Given to team members who go the extra mile to help customers, the award from Treasury Management credited Ross for taking a difficult request and making it a reality.

Approaching storm underscores urgency

Hurricane Matthew, the first hurricane in this part of Florida since Jeanne in 2004, was rapidly approaching. Businesses along the Treasure Coast, including Wells Fargo’s own branches, had already closed in preparation for the storm’s landfall.

The county needed to quickly retrieve its emergency funds, a cash reserve for responders in case a storm knocks out all communications, payment and other systems, and causes a temporary shift to a cash-only economy, said Shai Francis, the chief operating officer for St. Lucie County. First responders receive the cash through the Emergency Operations Center for food, fuel, supplies, and other expenses — but the county needed access first.

Deborah Benway and Laura Yerena at the Wells Fargo Fort Pierce South bank branch in Fort Pierce, Florida
Deborah Benway (left) and Laura Yerena at the Fort Pierce South branch where St. Lucie County got its emergency cash.

Ross coordinated a conference call with key Wells Fargo team members to discuss the county’s emergency cash need. During that call, Sheila Hicks of Wells Fargo’s Distribution Services and Support Group connected with Deborah Benway from the regional banking support team, who offered a solution and coordinated with Laura Yerena, service manager at Wells Fargo’s Fort Pierce South branch, to help St. Lucie County get the money before Hurricane Matthew hit.

A plan was formed: Yerena and Benway would go into the branch, retrieve the money the county needed, and then Francis would pick up  the emergency funds there.

“It was surreal, sitting here and thinking of what people were going through in Florida with Hurricane Matthew approaching,” Ross said. “Everyone — our team, the people that support the retail banks operationally, the local relationship manager for the county, and others from several parts of the state and country — worked to make this transaction happen.”

The plan worked flawlessly, and the crisis was over. Ross later nominated Benway, Hicks, and Yerena for service excellence honors in the retail bank’s “We’re Searching for STARS” recognition program, and all three received awards.

“We did have a bad storm but were spared the worst and fortunately did not need the money and have to use it,” Francis said of Hurricane Matthew, which property and analytics firm CoreLogic estimates caused $4 billion to $6 billion in damage, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes was a factor in the deaths of 46 people in the U.S. alone. “I was so glad to be able to get it that day, and appreciative of all the things people at Wells Fargo did to come through for us!”

When she learned of St. Lucie County’s need, Yerena was driving to her father’s home further inland.

“I was literally on the way out of Fort Pierce with my family when Deborah called and I pulled over to listen, and then headed back to the branch to meet the others involved,” Yerena said. “An hour or so later, everything was done. The whole transaction took no more than 20 minutes.”

Added Benway, “Everything just fell into place beautifully, and we’re glad we could be there that day for Shai and the county when they needed us most. That’s why we’re here.”