How Wells Fargo Became a Banking Leader in the Asian-American Market

An Interview With Multicultural Marketing Executive Michelle Scales

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Bill Imada
Bill Imada
Each year I review the advertising, marketing and communications work of several large corporations. For my annual top 10 list of the best corporate marketers in the U.S. Asian market, I focus on companies that truly "get it" when it comes to in-culture advertising and marketing. The companies I ultimately pick have a distinct creative approach, a sound market strategy, culturally relevant messaging in their ads and communication, and culturally appropriate design concepts that take into consideration the unique characteristics of Asian-American consumers.

The corporations I have chosen don't need to be convinced of the importance of multicultural marketing. They are engaged in various ethnic and lifestyle markets because they know that it's smart, it's needed and, most important, it's profitable. In the world of banking and financial services, one institution stands head and shoulders above all the rest: Wells Fargo.

What are some of Wells Fargo's core success factors?

  • Wells Fargo is consistent. It leads in the multicultural consumer markets because it remains steadfastly focused on the viability and vitality of ethnic and lifestyle consumers, businesses and entrepreneurs.

  • Wells Fargo has a firm and committed partnership with in-culture experts. It has a strong internal team of multicultural experts, and long-standing ties with its Asian-American agency of record, Dae Advertising of San Francisco.

  • Wells Fargo has executives, senior-level directors and managers who truly reflect the communities it serves, including a core group of Asian-American women executives. The company even has an Asian-American on the board of directors. These things are extremely important to community leaders and influencers.

  • Wells Fargo has a visible, active and proactive presence in the communities it serves. And it isn't just about financial investment; it includes employee engagement in key leadership roles within business and civic groups throughout the country.
Not long ago, I had a chance to visit with Michelle Scales, director of diverse segments at Wells Fargo. Ms. Scales, who is of South Asian heritage, leads Wells Fargo's multicultural marketing initiatives and is a 20-plus-year veteran of the financial services industry. Here is what she had to say.

Wells Fargo has a long and distinguished history in the U.S. Asian markets. Could you talk about the company's involvement in the Asian-American market and how that has evolved over the years?

Yes, we are very proud of the relationship we've had with Asian-American customers throughout our history. In fact, Wells Fargo's relationship with the Asian community dates back nearly 160 years when we served Asian merchants as customers and employed Asians as agents. We were one of the first California companies to service Chinese customers in their native languages, and published the first directory of Chinese-owned businesses on the West Coast in 1871.

Today, our commitment to the financial success of Asian-American customers and communities is just as strong. We continue to share the tools and information that can help Asian American individuals, households and businesses succeed financially.

What distinguishes Wells Fargo from other banking and financial services institutions that target Asian Americans?

We are consistently in the community -- from our team members participating in Lunar New Year parades to giving financial education workshops to Asian Americans. This also includes our relationship with organizations such as the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce (USPAACC) and our corporate sponsorship of the Committee of 100 (an organization that encourages stronger relations between the U.S. and greater China). We are consistently there for our Asian-American consumers. Core to Wells Fargo is the belief that we can only be successful if our communities are successful.

Wells Fargo has a long-standing relationship with its Asian-American agency partner, Dae Advertising. What can other marketers and agencies learn from this exceptional relationship?

The value of a long-standing relationship is immeasurable. We know Dae and Dae knows us. We trust each other's judgment and expertise and points of view. Again, going back to consistency, it's incredibly important to have a consistent presence in a community as well as a consistent look and feel. Dae helps us with that.

Seventy percent of the U.S. Asian population is foreign born and very grounded in their native cultures and languages. So, being relevant in-language and in-culture is extremely important, and Dae is a great resource to us.

Wells Fargo has a large portfolio of products and services. What products or services, if any, have you created to address the Asian-American market? Or, have you adapted existing products and services to be more culturally relevant to Asian-American consumers and business owners?

Here's an example. In February 2002, Wells Fargo established the Asian Business Services program to make information and resources available to Asian business owners through financial education and community outreach. One way we measure our progress is by our public goal to lend at least $5 billion to Asian-owned businesses by the end of 2013. To date, we have lent more than $3.2 billion to Asian business owners nationwide so they can grow their businesses, save for the future and plan for retirement.

In addition, Wells Fargo has been active in the international remittance market since 1994, when we began offering the Philippines ATM remittance account for customers sending money to the Philippines. Wells Fargo added India to its remittance network in 2004 and Vietnam and China in 2006. ExpressSend customers can send funds from Wells Fargo using various options depending on the country -- account to account, account to cash, cash to cash, or cash to account.

The U.S. Asian market is large and diverse. Which Asian-American segments are you currently targeting?

All U.S. Asian markets are important to us. Given our geographic presence, we focus on Chinese and South Asian opportunities.

Wells Fargo is actively engaged in the Asian-American community. Please provide us an example of your community engagement and what this has meant for the Wells Fargo brand.

Yes, Wells Fargo is actively engaged in the Asian-American community through volunteerism and community involvement. Wells Fargo sponsors many Asian American community events and activities across the country. For example, as one of the main sponsors of the 2010 city of Los Angeles Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration and the official sponsor of the Art Poster Contest, Wells Fargo awarded art kits to K-12 student winners throughout Los Angeles County. Winning artwork was displayed on a poster in L.A. Metro banking stores during the months of May and June. Wells Fargo also handed out Asian American History coloring books to customers in select banking stores. Activities such as this build relationships with the communities we serve and illustrate our commitment to their financial success.

How do you measure your company's overall success in the Asian-American market?

We have measurement teams that assess our progress, but one of the most important measures to us is the engagement of our Asian-American team members. Wells Fargo is a "Top 10 Company for Asian Americans" according to DiversityInc magazine. In fact, thousands of Wells Fargo team members participate in more than 120 Team Member Networks nationwide, including 20 separate chapters of Asian Connection, our internal team member affinity group for Asian Pacific Islanders. These internal team member organizations offer networking, career development, mentoring, and leadership opportunities and plan outreach initiatives for Asian communities.

Wells Fargo has staff devoted to specific ethnic/lifestyle segments, including Asian, Latino, African American, LGBTQ, et al. What are the company's primary reasons for segmenting the market by specific ethnicity and lifestyle?

We know that in about 10 years the diverse markets will be larger than non-diverse markets throughout the U.S. It's already apparent in the composition of some of the schools in our country's major metropolitan areas. As such, we are committed to reaching customers from all segments to provide financial services and tools that help individuals, businesses and communities succeed financially.

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