Photo: Gary Fountain, For The Chronicle / For The Chronicle/Gary Fountain
Wells Fargo, the second largest bank in Houston, is still grappling with the reputational fallout created by employees opening 3.5 million potentially unauthorized accounts for customers.
As part of its efforts to rebuild trust — in addition to a $185 million settlement with multiple authorities and a $142 million class-action suit — the bank has flattened its management structure and brought in new leaders. The community banking division now has 91 region bank presidents, down from 160 region presidents and area presidents.
This will ideally bring the bank’s leaders closer to its customers. In Texas, Wells Fargo’s former region president for the Philadelphia and Delaware markets has returned to the company and is now head of community banking for Texas. David Miree began his new position in Houston on June 1, 2017.
Miree recently spoke to the Chronicle about his endeavors to improve the bank’s reputation. Excerpts, condensed and edited for clarity:
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Q: What are you doing to help improve Wells Fargo’s image in Houston and Texas overall?
A: We recognize, in this moment, the best thing we can do is to make sure we’ve got full alignment of all of our Houston and Texas team members square on the customer experience. So understanding what’s right for them, what their needs are, and what their hopes and dreams are. And making sure that we are aligning the right recommendations based upon their needs.
Q: Can you give me specifics on how you’re trying to improve the customer experience?
A: We have gotten rid of our sales goals based on the sales practice review. So we used to have goals around product focuses. Our new goals for team members are solely centered around the customer experience. The whole expectation is: Did we deliver the kind of experience the customer was looking for? Did we give them more than what they came in for? Employees’ recognition comes from how the customers feel about that interaction. Customers are sent a survey and they fill out the survey form and send it back about that banker and their experience about them specifically.
Q: How are the efforts to change the bank’s reputation going? And how long do you think it will take to truly rebuild trust here in Texas?
A: The efforts are going extremely well based upon customer feedback and team member feedback. But with that being said, we’re on a journey to rebuild trust and we recognize it was very much needed. And that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s going to take some time for us to be able to move beyond the challenge we faced the past, I’ll call it, 18 months. And so we’ll recognize we made it through when the customers tell us that.
Q: Can you give me more specifics on other steps you’ve put in place?
A: From a product standpoint, we’re always looking at how we can create the best products our customers need. Because so much is changing right now across banking from a digital transformation perspective. For one example, we have ATM card-free cash withdrawals now. … We also have increased our minimum wage for every employee in the company to $15 per hour.
Q: How big is Wells Fargo’s community banking presence in Texas?
A: Community banking is $53 billion in deposits here in Texas. We’ve got about 650 branches, roughly 1,200 ATMs and close to 10,000 community banking team members.
Q: What does Wells Fargo overall expect in 2018 for Texas?
A: We expect another good year. We had a really good year in 2017, all things considered. We’re optimistic because of growth of the Texas marketplace. When you have household growth coming in, it is such a leading indicator of opportunity. Having 400,000 new households in 2017 — the number was higher in 2016 — and having an opportunity to engage with those new residents and provide banking services to them. New business growth here is solid as well, which creates opportunity for not only our lending teams but our wealth division and private banking teams as a result of those relationships. And our ability to really engage those clients gives us our confidence based upon what we’ve captured so far.
Q: Anything else you wanted to say?
A: Wells Fargo is working very, very hard to regain trust. We recognize there were some mistakes made in the past, but we have taken tremendous steps as a company, and as individuals in a company, to rectify and get back on track again. The actions and the steps to really continue our engagement efforts have not slowed down. They’ve only intensified in 2017 and will continue to in 2018.