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I recently spoke with Derek Ellington, the Head of Small Business Banking at Wells Fargo, on his team’s plans to help business owners successfully navigate the uncharted waters of 2022. Below are excerpts from our conversation. 

Brian Moran: Congratulations on your new role at Wells Fargo. You probably had to hit the ground running due to the ongoing issues facing small business owners everywhere these days.  What are your priorities for 2022?

Derek Ellington: For 2022, we’re focused on several key areas to help small businesses succeed. The last few years have rightfully been focused on helping small businesses survive the pandemic. For 2022, we’re looking at areas where we can now help them thrive. Here are our key areas of focus for the year:

  • Customer engagement and growth – we’re working on several ways to help support our small business customers and grow this important part of our Wells Fargo business. Through a few initiatives, we are adding more dedicated small business relationship bankers and virtual bankers to deepen relationships with our customers and provide greater support for their financial needs. We know the path towards helping our customers succeed is pairing them with a knowledgeable small business banker who can help their business grow and provide greater support for their financial needs.
  • Technology and operations – improving our technology and operations is always a key focus of ours. We want to ensure we meet our customer’s needs where they want and need the most support. Improving our processes, simplifying our offerings, and providing enhancements that make banking faster, easier, smarter, and safer for our customers is top of mind in 2022 and beyond. 
  • Digital and marketing – our goal is to build and deliver digital products and offerings that meet the needs of our small business customers and innovate their experiences. We plan on rolling out several new digital tools that will help simplify the account opening and management experience for our customers. We are also revamping our small business website and mobile app with a more intuitive design making it easier for customers to find products right away.
  • Employee engagement and development – we are always focused on developing our key talent and ensuring they have a clear path towards a successful career at Well Fargo. This year we will focus on upskilling and training our employees on each of our digital enhancements so they are savvy with our new small business tools and can help our customers along the way.

Brian: Tell us about the “Open for Business” fund from Wells Fargo. Why did the company start it, and what’s the latest on opportunities for small business owners?

Derek: Racially and ethnically diverse-owned businesses have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic compared to other small businesses. Therefore, our efforts and programs have mainly focused on supporting these underserved entrepreneurs as a priority. 

Wells Fargo committed to donating all gross processing fees from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) during 2020 and created a roughly $420 million small business recovery effort called the Open for Business Fund. We are one of the only major banks to donate all fees back, without subtracting costs or expenses. 

The Open for Business Fund focuses on small businesses hardest hit by COVID-19, including Black, African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, women and many others. Beyond providing much needed capital, the Open for Business Fund also empowers small businesses with technical assistance and long-term resiliency programs.

Wells Fargo works with nonprofits to build an ecosystem of support for small businesses no matter where they are on their journey so they can recover and continue to provide vital jobs in local communities.  We will continue to collaborate with nonprofits to distribute the remaining funds, and a third grant cycle launches in Q4 2021 focused on long-term recovery and resiliency efforts. 

Brian: Wells Fargo launched Disbursements from Zelle to help small business owners better manage uneven cash flow. How does the program work and what’s the status on it today?

Derek: Disbursement is a service designed for commercial customers and allows commercial customers to only send or disburse Zelle payments.  Commercial customers cannot receive Zelle payments. In 2021, we launched Zelle for Small Business to allow small business customers to send payments and receive payments via a registered token. 

Brian: Do you plan to introduce any new programs for business owners in 2022? Are there any specific segments within the SMB space that you plan to address?

Derek: While COVID-19 continues to create unprecedented economic challenges for our small business customers and our nation, we as a company are very focused on fostering an inclusive recovery and strengthening the small business sector for the long term. Our goal is to help as many small businesses as we can. 

As a company, we’re prioritizing investments that can make banking faster, easier, smarter, and safer — for our customers and the whole financial services industry. We are focused on making improvements through expanded digital capabilities and leveraging technologies to drive better operational efficiencies 

We just launched the Small Business Product Selector tool, a digital product selection tool that includes small business checking, savings, credit cards, loans, lines of credit, merchant services, and commercial real estate financing. It is a dynamic offering that helps both our bankers and customers identify needs, details appropriate products that may fulfill those needs, and provides contacts for more complex needs. 

As a bank, we also strive to support diverse small businesses as they continue their journey towards recovery. An all-new CDFI introduction resource we just launched, the Small Business Resource Navigator, provides pathways for small businesses to access capital and technical assistance. 

We continue to support women-owned businesses through Connect to More, including an extended partnership with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, mentorship opportunities, Wells Fargo hosted webinars, and more. 

Brian: Last question, what are the best resources from the Wells Fargo Online Small Business Resource Center that small business owners should know about? 

Derek: The Small Business Resource Center provides business owners with a platform full of resources – including a toolkit to help navigate digital banking, tips to help manage finances and cash flow, a multitude of information on surviving and thriving during COVID-19 and more.

Brian: Thank you Derek for taking time today to speak with Small Business Edge and our followers. We appreciate the work you and Wells Fargo are doing to support millions of small business owners around the country, and we wish you great success in your new role.

Brian Moran

Brian Moran

Prior to rejoining the world of entrepreneurship, Brian was the Executive Director of Sales Development at the Wall Street Journal where he oversaw the sales development and marketing programs for the financial and small business categories among the many Journal brands. From 2002-2010, Brian was President of Veracle Media and Moran Media Group.

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