Wells Fargo Shareowner Services
An Interview With Katie Sevcik And Deb O’Donnell
Q: This year and next seem to be years of major regulatory change and reform. Is your Team prepared?
Katie: Yes. One of the important things we learned early-on is that to be successful in our business you have to be actively involved with industry committees, with regulators – and with the regulatory process.
On the subject of Tax Cost-Basis Reporting, for example – which is the most pressing industry issue these days – we have been very active in the STA Committee devoted to this, and have met with the IRS, Treasury, and with brokers and other agents on a regular basis. You also need to keep the investors’ perspective very much in mind here too, and I do think that the various industry groups that we work with have been very much together where this very tricky subject is concerned.
Another thing that has helped enormously is Wells Fargo’s Government Relations Group in Washington, which always keeps an ear close to the ground, and helps us keep a very good dialogue going with the IRS and Treasury staff members that are still shaping the fine details of the rules and regs.
Deb:We also benefit from Wells Fargo’s “enterprise level” of attention on regulatory issues. We have a retail brokerage business, a custody division, corporate trust, a mutual funds business, and a large corporate tax division. We can and do bring a very wide variety of perspectives into play to be sure that all of us – regulators included – will see the “big picture”.
Q: What changes do you think will be most impactful to the market?
Katie: The Cost-Basis rules will have the biggest impact short-term and the “triggers”, making final comments on the rules – and implementing them – will be very short it now seems. The SEC has also promised that new Transfer Agency Rules will be put forward toward year end, with a plan for gradual phase-ins.
Another big set of issues – and a very important set to issuers, I know – is “overvoting” and “empty voting” – along with shareholder education and a review of the “proxy plumbing system” as a whole. I am on the Corporate Action Board of SIFMA, and it is worth noting that proxy processing and voting matters are now viewed as “corporate actions” – which gives them a greatly increased level of importance.
Deb: A related set of issues that we deal with now – and that will be increasingly important over time, revolves around the increasing globalization of securities markets. We are ready. This year we handled the US’s largest IPO to date in which distributions were sent to shareholders in nearly 120 countries. Today, with access to Wells Fargo’s enterprise, we have the ability to wire dividend payments to shareholders in over 150 countries in more than 30 currencies.
Katie: We also expect to see more global “reorg deals” – and here, numerous unanticipated and never-before-seen “wrinkles” arise all the time. Securities really need to be totally “portable” internationally, but many times, unless an expert team gets involved, as we saw in a deal last year, they are not.
Q: I know that Wells Fargo takes particular pride in its internal control systems and its overall compliance perspective. What do you think clients and prospects should know about this?
Katie:We have created a very strong risk and compliance culture here at Wells Fargo Shareowner Services. We monitor all of our key activities and have an ongoing focus on risk management that comes into play whenever there are procedural changes, new regulations, new products and services, new technology solutions and technological upgrades. It is important to note that we take an “enterprise wide approach” to risk management and to data security issues, and to business continuity planning as well. So yes, while we have our own internal compliance, testing and implementation people, we are also subject to a very extensive enterprise- wide testing and reviewing process.
Q: What goals do you have for the Shareowner Service business over the next couple of years? And, in particular, how do you plan to ensure that client needs will be met…in the way that clients expect them to be met?
Deb: Our number-one goal with respect to our clients is to help them, and to guide them through the many changes that are looming. We listen to our clients: to understand their goals and their particular needs.We then apply our group's extensive experience and knowledge to bring them leading solutions. This approach helps us satisfy existing clients and is bringing us new ones.
Our goal with respect to our business is for continued growth. Last year we opened a new state-of-the-art call center close to our operations center, and an office in New York City. We are making significant investments in technology solutions to meet ever-changing client and shareowner needs. And we tap into the many large bank resources available to us, including large print/mail facilities, foreign exchange and international ACH capabilities, brokerage trading platforms and technology resources second to none.
Q: Can you give us a few more examples of how you help your clients keep up with change?
Deb:We have regular service reviews with our clients. This is where ‘listening to the client’ is first and foremost on our agenda. But we also fill clients in on industry or regulatory developments and try to give some guidance on exactly what it might mean to them. We have our annual Client Conference, of course, and this year, we added two client seminars, one in New York and one in San Francisco. We have a quarterly client-newsletter, and also, we update our clients regularly as things change.
Q: How do you ensure that shareowner needs are met? And do you see these needs declining or increasing as the world seems to get more automated all the time?
Katie: Many years ago, when I first became active in the industry and working on initiatives with other agents, issuers, brokers, and DTC, I learned to keep the group focused on shareowner needs by constantly reminding them to “keep your shareowner hat on”. Later, a colleague from a company in Houston gave me a big ten-gallon hat and told me to never lose that focus. I try always to remember this philosophy. I think of this as our biggest challenge. Our guiding philosophy here is to be sure that shareholders can always do business with us effectively and efficiently – using the contact method that works best for THEM.
Deb: Most individual shareowners still like to reach out by telephone – if, that is, they can reach a real person, without delay, who can understand their issue or their problem, and get to the root of it. So our call-center, and the kind of training we provide, and the kind of monitoring that we do is exceptionally important to us. Getting to the root of things is especially important to us. We train our reps to ask questions, and to use the information they have – both on their screens and in their heads – to make sure the shareholders’ actual needs will be fully anticipated, and fully met. But many people prefer the web – and many still prefer to write a letter – and, guess what, we have at least 100 walk-in shareowners a month.
Q: Your group talks a lot about client longevity. What do the statistics looks like – and what do you do to make clients want to stay with Wells Fargo?
Deb: We have two clients – actually our two first clients – that have been with us for 80 years. We have 25 clients with 20 or more years, and 160 clients with 10 or more years.
What makes them want to stay with us? We think it’s mainly our people. We have a lot of employees who have over 25 years with us. We have a lot of “second-generation employees”. Our people know each other. And they like each other. They like working as part of a team - and it really shows.
When we talk to our clients, the things they say most often are, “I can always reach someone I know…If my regular contact is traveling, or out the day I call, I know one or more of their associates. Specific people are dedicated to me and
Q: Wells Fargo continues to add new business at a very robust rate. How are you absorbing the growth?
Katie: Our goal has long been to have steady and robust ‘organic growth’. Our growth has accelerated recently as companies respond to our unmatched service model. This year has been the first year in memory when a number of clients moved their business to us during the proxy season. This was a wonderful vote of confidence in us, and in our “on-boarding team”. We have ample capacity in our operations center and in our call-center – where we also benefit from our ‘enterprise- wide’ functionality – and, most important, we have excellent benchstrength to handle growth.
Deb: We have also made some excellent ‘strategic acquisitions’ of people with high levels of service-skills and industry expertise – in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New York and in Arizona, for example. As you can see, we’re not only absorbing growth – we’re ensuring that each of our clients will receive only the highest level of service. And we keep investing in this promise. We executed a large-scale server refresh, continue to enhance workflow systems and are developing new web sites for shareowners and clients. We’re excited to share the benefits Wells Fargo’s leadingedge technology has to offer.
Q: Any closing thoughts on things that clients and prospects should know about Wells Fargo, and its Shareowner Services business? What do think differentiates you in the marketplace most of all?
Katie: Our combination of people, experience, technology and large financial company resources allows us to provide an unmatched level of service quality to our clients and their shareowners. We provide the high touch service of a small provider and the operational and technology capabilities of a large one. Regardless of how big or small a client may be, they can expect the same high level of service from us. Our team shares certain very specific values; persistence, consistency, determination, operational expertise, commitment to excellence and delivering a consultative approach.
Deb: Another very important thing to note, this commitment comes straight from the top of our organization. Check out our short video of Wells Fargo’s CEO, John Stumpf, at www.taswitch.com – who will tell you that “Wells Fargo Shareowner Services is a cornerstone product of Wells Fargo.”