Wells Fargo to launch pilot with Facebook Messenger

(Courtesy of Jacksonville Business Journal)

Wells Fargo & Co. is launching a pilot to test an artificial intelligence-driven experience through Facebook Messenger.

The San Francisco-based bank — the third-largest bank in Central Florida — has hinted at incorporating financial services into third-party environments for a while now. Steve Ellis, head of Wells Fargo’s Innovation Group, talked about implementing banking tools in Facebook Messenger with sister paper Charlotte Business Journal earlier this year.

“It all comes back to making it easier for customers to do business with you,” Ellis said at the time.

“Our goal is to deliver information ‘in the moment’ to help customers make better informed financial decisions,” Ellis said in a statement Tuesday. “AI technology allows us to take an experience that would have required our customers to navigate through several pages on our website, and turn it into a simple conversation in a chat environment. That’s a huge time- saving convenience for busy customers who are already frequent users of Messenger.”

Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) says it has provided assistance to customers through Facebook since 2009. In May 2016, the bank adopted Messenger and its main channel for addressing customer questions and problems.

Facebook users have been able to send and receive money on Messenger since 2015. The social-media platform announced April 11 users can now send and receive money between groups of people on Messenger, using Android phones or desktop computers. Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Wells Fargo pilot.

Most of Wells Fargo’s customer engagements now happen over Messenger, rather than on its public news feed.

The bank announced in February Ellis would lead a new team called the artificial intelligence enterprise solutions team. Since its sales scandal emerged last September, Tim Sloan, Wells Fargo’s new CEO, has said the bank is relying on technology to rebuild trust.

Most of the large banks in the U.S. are experimenting with artificial intelligence. Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America’s virtual assistant, called Erica, is expected to launch this summer.

Wells Fargo quietly discloses that its annual meeting will be in Jacksonville

(Courtesy of Jacksonville Business Journal)

Wells Fargo has revealed the site of its annual shareholders meeting: It will be at the Sawgrass Marriott in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., near Jacksonville, at 10 a.m. on April 25.

This would not be breaking news for most major corporations, where the announcement of details for the annual meeting is routine. Wells, however, has often played cat-and-mouse on the location of the meeting since 2012, when loud and raucous demonstrations against the bank disrupted the gathering in San Francisco. The bank’s meeting hasn’t been in its hometown since, instead taking place in places like Salt Lake City and San Antonio, Tex. The location has been usually announced in its proxy statement roughly a month in advance.

This year the annual meeting details come a bit earlier, amid a 15-page report filed Wednesday detailing steps Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) has taken to restore trust and fix its reputation in the wake of a sales scandal. In September, it was publicly disclosed that bank employees had opened up to 2 million accounts over several years without customer permission in a bid to meet stringent sales targets. The bank was fined $185 million by regulators and its culture came under intense scrutiny that culminated in the resignation of CEO John Stumpf.

The bank included a timeline of major events in the past six months including Stumpf’s departure in October, a new compensation plan in January and eliminating bonuses for top executives earlier Wednesday. The bank also eliminated product sales goals for retail bankers and established additional monitoring and controls to provide oversight of sales processes.

All that makes the first annual meeting since the scandal broke a high-profile event for both shareholders and critics alike. At least they’ll have a few more weeks to make travel arrangements.

Wells Fargo to close approximately 400 branches by 2018

wells-fargo-logo

(courtesy of Jacksonville Business Journal)

Wells Fargo officials announced last week that it plans to close more than 400 branches by the end of next year, in an effort to cut costs.

The bank was involved in a massive scandal last year wherein employees opened fake accounts totaling almost $2 million. The scandal resulted in the company eliminating sales goals for retail bankers and prompted federal investigations, but bank officials say the scandal is not the reason for the branch closings. Wells Fargo is planning to close hundreds of branches in the coming years.

In a statement from Wells Fargo CFO John Shrewsberry, the bank is merely following a trend carried out by several large retail banks – closing locations and replacing them with automated systems and online bank products.

The statement also claims that many of the 200 closures it anticipates this year will be in close proximity to other locations it owns, and many of the employees can be transferred to nearby branches, which should limit layoffs.

Even after the bank closes an estimated 200 branches in 2018, Wells Fargo would still have 6,065 total branches, more than any other bank in the country.

“We continuously evaluate our branch network, and our physical distribution strategy is driven by customer behavior, market factors, economic trends and competitor actions,” said Rosanna Fiske, vice president of corporate communications for Wells Fargo’s southeast region. “While branches continue to be important in serving our customers’ needs, our investment in digital capabilities has enabled us to seamlessly serve our customers across channels and provide choice in how they bank with us.”

Fiske said at this time, she could not provide details on specific locations.