Wells Fargo perfects the art of doing well by doing good

It is not a whim. It’s not a knee-jerk impulse. Nor is it a gratuitous activity. And it certainly isn’t an afterthought.

The community initiatives in which Wells Fargo Bank participates are a part of its DNA, says Kevin Burke, the financial institution’s regional vice president for commercial banking.

“It’s our overall philosophy, from corporate down,” Burke says. “Our view is that we can’t be successful unless the communities we operate in are successful.

That means supporting worthwhile initiatives across the spectrum, from business to the arts to education. For example, Wells Fargo has supported a Gateway Community College initiative that allowed high-school students to take college-level courses. They gain not only advanced knowledge, but save money by earning college credits before entering college.

“It’s more economical” for students, Burke points out.

Wells Fargo has contributed grants to the local community that total in the millions of dollars. In 2011 it contributed almost $700,000 in grants and donations to area nonprofits. Among its future-investing projects is a $300,000 contribution to underwrite the total cost of the New Haven Promise: Partnership for its initial year. A program of New Haven Promise, the program helps students, parents and community members increase college enrollment and help students take advantage of a possible free college education.

Funding is important, yes. But “It’s not just providing funding” for various projects that closely knit Wells Fargo into the fabric of the greater New Haven community. The bank has become a part of the organizations they support.

Wells Fargo affiliates have volunteered for hundreds of local projects ranging from financial education to life and social skills to small-business seminars to arts education. The community members served ranged from students to professionals to retired seniors.

“Our team members participate in these organizations,” Burke explains. They match their own interests to those of the community, and are allowed time off from work to lend support. Burke himself is a patron of the arts, for example. He serves as chairman of the board of the Shubert Theater. He’s been involved for the past decade or so.

Being involved means having first-hand knowledge of what is needed and where Wells Fargo can most effectively deploy its resources — both financial and human.

“In talking to community leaders [in the arts], they told us that government is cutting back a lot on arts funding,” Burke says. So the bank was able to target its resources where they could be most helpful.

For example, as part of outreach efforts a dance ensemble went into New Haven schools to help improve conflict-resolution initiatives for at-risk students. Wells Fargo has also supported New Haven Symphony Orchestra performances in area schools.

Wells Fargo employees have in fact taken time off work to wield hammers and saws, helping to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, a frequent partner with the bank. Last year some 30 Wells Fargo employees worked on a house being built on Congress Avenue, in New Haven’s Hill Section.

Such projects, reiterates Burke, “help bring people into the community.”

The bank is constantly seeking out opportunities to be an exemplary corporate citizen and contribute to the community that it serves.

“We’re going to be teaching in New Haven schools with Junior Achievement in April,” says Helene Robbins, a vice president of Wells Fargo Private Bank and a trust and fiduciary specialist. “There are a lot of dedicated people in this office.” Robbins herself serves on the boards of the Community Fund for Women & Girls, the Gateway College Community Foundation and the ACES Education Foundation. She and some of the staff at Well Fargo’s New Haven office are also involved with the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, Habitat for Humanity and St. Vincent’s Medical Center.

“Community outreach has always been a common theme here,” explains Robbins, who has been with Wells Fargo and its predecessor banks since 1979. “We’ve gone through a number of different mergers and acquisitions before we became Wells Fargo, and I’ve actually come through most of those organizations. So giving back to the community and getting involved has always been a part of our role."

“There are a lot of wonderful organizations in the Greater New Haven area and they are always looking for new people to serve on their boards, to be volunteers and certainly to be donors,” says Robbins, who lives in Cheshire. “My advice [to bank employees] would be to find out what motivates you, what your passions are and go out into the community and do some good work.”

“For our bank’s community outreach, one of the things is philanthropy,” says Kent McClun, area president of Wells Fargo Bank in Connecticut. “We support a lot of the non-profits in the New Haven area and across Connecticut. But more so, we have a very strong focus on volunteerism. That’s really bringing the 1,500 people in Connecticut that work for us to come together to volunteer time and effort toward the non-profits. That’s what we really put a lot of muscle behind. Not just dollars, but commitment in time and effort that help support the community.”

Southington resident McClun, who has been with the bank for 15 years in different parts of the country, notes that Wells Fargo collaborates with other organizations in New Haven to further serve the community.

“We’ve done some things in New Haven with Yale, the Hope Scholarships, and the Wells Fargo Community Room with the United Way so that non-profits could actually have a place to meet,” says McClun, who serves on the board of the Connecticut chapter of the American Red Cross. “I’m also involved with the Waterbury [Regional] Chamber of Commerce. I’ve been with the bank in Connecticut for the last four years.”

“I’m specifically responsible for community development to help meet our Community Reinvestment Act goals, primarily focused on deploying capital and investments in low- and moderate-income communities,” explains Arnoldo Ulloa, Wells Fargo’s vice president of community development. “I will focus on community development organizations and serve on the board of New Haven Neighborhood Housing Services, which is a non-profit affordable housing developer.”

Ulloa says New Haven Neighborhood Housing Services focuses in the Dixwell neighborhood of the city.

“They have recently purchased several of the foreclosed homes in that area and have converted them into affordable homes for people in the community,” says Ulloa, who resides in Bridgeport and covers the state for the bank. “We donated several homes that were foreclosed and provided some funding as well to [enable] the organization to retrofit those buildings and put them on the market for families that need affordable housing. We’ve also been very active with foreclosure mitigation and have a close relationship with their clients in making sure we provide modifications and other forms of solutions for people that are struggling to stay in their homes.”

Ulloa serves on the board of New Haven Neighborhood Housing Services and the Community Economic Development Fund in Meriden, which serves the entire state.

“My role is statewide, so I try to be positioned close to all the locations I serve,” says Ulloa, who has been with Wells Fargo for four years. “But I have to say that New Haven has been the market where we probably have committed the most — not just in financial resources but also in human capital. It’s a place where there are a lot of really innovative solutions being provided to community development. It’s been a very exciting time to be working in this market.”

Ulloa works with other bank staff on the New Haven Promise scholarship initiative and has provided seminars to parents on 529 savings accounts to help them save for their children’s college education.


“We really try to invest all our time, our people and our financial resources in helping to improve educational access for communities, because Connecticut has the largest achievement gap of any state in the country,” says Ulloa. “We identified that as something that’s a priority and we want to use our resources to help address it. We’ve been very active in improving education — not just in New Haven, but throughout the state.”

Felicia Hunter contributed additional reporting to this article.

 

 HARTFORD — Insurance companies that refuse to underwrite policies for subsidized housing or impose a surcharge for such a policy are breaking the law, warns the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.

Nevertheless, a number of insurance providers continue to discriminate, the center reports.

In a recent release, the center noted that it continues to hear from landlords who encounter discriminatory insurance policies when seeking to gain coverage for subsidized housing for which residents may use vouchers.

One such landlord was New Haven resident Marco Francia, who acquires apartment buildings in distressed neighborhoods and rehabilitates them. According to the center, Francia tried to obtain liability insurance for such a property, but the insurance company selected rejected his application because the property’s tenants used Section 8, federally subsidized housing vouchers. He submitted his application again. It was accepted, but a surcharge was imposed. In addition, he has to assure the insurer that a maximum of only 20 percent of his tenants would  have vouchers.

Despite the Connecticut Superior Court’s ruling that the state’s Human Rights and Opportunities Act’s stance against housing discrimination applies to liability insurance and landlords, the center still receives complaints, it says. It urges anyone who has had such an experience to call 888-247-4401.

 Credit picture still not near 2007 levels 

 

  

HARTFORD — Credit conditions in Connecticut eroded slightly during the fourth quarter of 2013 after reaching high levels earlier in the year, according to the fourth quarter 2013 Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA)/Farmington Bank Credit Availability Survey.

Overall, the credit picture is slightly better than one year ago but still has a way to go to reach the record levels attained back in 2007, before the economic recession.

"While conditions are not ideal, the credit spigot is open for businesses," said CBIA economist and vice president Peter Gioia. "Together with low interest rates, conditions can continue to support growth." 

The Farmington Bank Credit Availability Index (FBCAI) recorded the fourth quarter index level at 38.8, down from the third quarter index figure of 51.4. 

On a positive note, the fourth quarter reading also represents a 29-percent increase from the level recorded one year ago. 

"From the credit surveys, we've seen significant improvement year after year," said John Patrick, president and CEO of Farmington Bank. "Banks like ours are ready to lend to commercial businesses in Connecticut." 

The FBCAI's future expectations component, which measures credit availability three to six months from now, stood at an index level of 40.9, down 20 percent from last quarter's reading of 51.0. 

Negative opinions about future credit conditions outweighed positive opinions by almost a two-to-one margin, indicating that credit conditions are still likely to be challenging for many firms as they move through the year. 

"It's a little disappointing to see the fourth-quarter credit readings slip a bit when we've had other positive signs that the Connecticut economy is rebounding," said Don Klepper-Smith, chief economist and director of research at DataCore Partners in New Haven.

Only 17 percent of respondents rated conditions as either good or excellent, while 53 percent rated them average.

In addition, when asked how they would use credit if available, almost half (46 percent) stated they would invest in new plant and equipment. 

Another 19 percent said that they would use new capital to maintain their current workforce. 

The Fourth Quarter 2013 CBIA/Farmington Bank Credit Availability Survey was emailed to approximately 1,900 Connecticut businesses in January.

 NEW HAVEN — Higher One Holdings, which provides financial and analytics tools to universities, said its fourth-quarter net income fell 48 percent, mainly due to higher operating expenses.

The company reported $6.3 million in profits, or 13 cents per diluted share, down from $12.1 million, or 22 cents, a year ago.

The decline came in spite of a 13.7-percent revenue hike (to $56.6 million) and was the result of higher marketing and administrative costs. The 2013 Q4 also included a $6.9 million benefit in operating costs from merger and acquisition activity.

The trend for the full year was the same: Revenues increased while profits fell.

Higher One reported $14.1 million in annual profits on $211.1 million in revenue compared to $36.9 million on $197.7 million in 2012.

A $16.3 million legal settlement in 2013 — as well as higher costs — was a major reason for the profit decline.

 Connecticut’s gaming industry remained in the doldrums in January, as both Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun reported declines in their slot revenues of 8.3 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively, for the month.

Foxwoods reported $37.1 million in slots revenues, down from $40.7 million in January 2013. The amount of money bettors pushed through its machines— a/k/a the handle — declined 14 percent to $433.3 million.

Mohegan Sun's slots revenue for the month was $43.3 million, down from $47.1 million a year ago. Its handle fell more than five percent, to $542.6 million.

As a result of the revenue declines, the state will receive $1.9 million less in January slots revenue compared to January 2013. The two casinos pay 25 percent of slots revenue each month to the Connecticut Special Revenue Fund.

Officials at both casinos attributed the decline both to increasing competition from other gaming venues throughout the Northeast as well as to inhospitable January weather.