When Wells Fargo & Company acquired Wachovia, they increased their presence on the East Coast as well as globally. With the expansion came the opportunity to extend their commitment beyond diversity in the sense of affirmative action and to develop it as a business strategy. Thus, the company established a business unit for several consumer segments, including one focusing on African Americans. Michelle Thornhill, Wells Fargo’s senior vice president and African American segment manager, leads this charge.
Thornhill has banked 15 years of experience developing consumer initiatives for diverse audiences in the financial services and nonprofit sectors. “I lead the African American segment and that [means] helping the company set its strategy in terms of looking at how we attract and retain African American consumers; working with all of our lines of business to track this consumer segment; and supporting functions of the foundation and human resources to not only recruit and attract team members, but to work key centers of influence in the community.”
According to Thornhill, Wells Fargo’s vision for this segment is simple. “It’s to help consumers achieve financial success. My philosophy is if we educate African American consumers, then we create a long-term opportunity for financial success. It’s a philosophy that I have practiced throughout my career.”
Thornhill’s core belief that it makes good business sense for Wells Fargo to focus its resources and attention to African American consumers to achieve financial success is predicated by the fact that she’s worked very closely with this community during her career. She’s worked with the NAACP; taught at an HBCU; has developed and implemented financial education programs; and consulted with African American business owners.
“If we plan to be around as an institution, then the diverse segments will play a key role in helping us to reach our financial goals,” she offers. “This [requires] not only changing people’s perception, because we all come to the table with our own experiences, but also the minds of business leaders to see and understand where the growth is coming from and the financial needs that these consumer segments have, which often aren’t different from the general market, [ultimately] helping them develop a strategy.”
Wells Fargo works closely with a host of trade and community-based organizations. “We have national partnerships with the NAACP, National Urban League, UNCF, the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, 100 Black Men, National Black MBA Association, National Association of Black Accountants, Mocha Moms, The Links and Jack and Jill [of America]. We cover the gamut.”
Introducing the Wells Fargo brand to the East Coast presents the opportunity for the African American community to learn more about the company and its breadth of financial services, products, tools and resources that are available. “Most people have known Wells Fargo as a mortgage company, or they have not been familiar with the insurance and the whole array of deposit products that will be offered. We’re no longer a West or Midwest bank,” Thornhill advises.
Thornhill has a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; a master’s degree from Central Michigan University; and a master of public administration degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. –yvette caslin