A business plan: An essential part of small business success

Wells Fargo infographic showing only one in three businesses have a business plan. upon click, make this call up larger one provided here in attachmentsAs the former owner of a strategic marketing and communications agency in San Francisco, I can’t stress enough the importance of a written business plan. My small business didn’t have a documented plan, but if my partners (also good friends) and I were ever asked, we’d have said we had one in our heads.

This rings true for a lot of small business owners today. In fact, only one in three in our January 2015 Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index said they had a formal, written plan. But those who told us they did have plans reported greater optimism for 2015, including plans to: add jobs, increase capital spending, and generate higher sales during the next 12 months.

Why are business plans important?

Today, I have the opportunity to be part of a team at Wells Fargo that is doing everything we can to help small businesses meet today’s demands and prepare for tomorrow. We know business owners in general are very busy and mainly focused on day-to-day activities. So it’s not surprising to see that creating a written business plan isn’t top-of-mind for most entrepreneurs. However, we believe that creating a formal business plan is an important step for a successful business — which is why we recently launched Wells Fargo’s Business Plan Center as the latest Wells Fargo Works for Small BusinessSM offering.

The primary purpose of a business plan, in addition to defining what your business is and where you’re headed, is also to clarify what needs to be done to move ahead. A business plan is a living document that should be updated as goals are met and needs change. It doesn’t last forever, so modifying your plan is an important annual or quarterly exercise to help you focus on the future as well as the day-to-day.

In looking back at my experience as a small business owner, I wish my two partners and I had created a formal plan. We ran a successful operation and the constant demands of steady work created its own positive momentum. But with a plan on paper, we could have built a more-sustainable business model to prepare for changes and challenges. Experience and instinct guided our decisions along the way, but had we gone through a planning process that included scenarios, outcomes, and potential next steps, we’d have had more clarity and been better aligned about where we were taking the business.

What we’re doing to help

Our new Business Plan Center is a free online resource available on WellsFargoWorks.com. It features a Business Plan Tool that guides you step by step through the process of developing a written business plan. It also offers a Competitive Intelligence Tool you can use to gain insights about your competition, such as maps and lists of competitors or how they compare to your business in areas like revenue, annual average worker salary, number of employees, and more.

The Business Plan Center recommends that each of these components are part of your plan to ensure long-term success:

  1. Company Overview: A description of the business, products, or services you’re selling today and enhanced offerings you’d like to bring to market.
  2. Analysis: A thorough analysis of the market and competition.
  3. Marketing Plan: A strategic plan to set your business apart from competitors and reach your prospective audience.
  4. Financial Data: Your starting balances, plans for generating revenue, and sales forecasts. Our Business Plan Tool allows you to generate financial statements – such as a detailed cash flow statement, profit and loss statement, and balance sheet.
  5. Executive Summary: A business recap – who you are, what you sell, who you sell to, and financial summary.

As I reflect on my former business, having access to an online tool like this would have made a huge difference. With a better view of the future, we might have expanded into new markets, differentiated our business model, and established formal succession plans to help with the evolution of the business. Of course in hindsight, it’s easy to identify steps we could have taken, but the message is clear: Creating a business plan is an important step for any business.

About Doug

Case is Wells Fargo’s Small Business Segment manager responsible for the strategic direction of Wells Fargo’s focus on small business, which includes the Wells Fargo Works for Small Business initiative, and the online resource WellsFargoWorks.com. Today, Wells Fargo serves approximately 3 million small business customers across the United States and loans more money to America’s small businesses than any other bank (2002-2013 CRA government data).

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Six tips to teach your children how to save

Child puts coin in piggy bank This Friday, April 24, Wells Fargo joins community banks around the U.S. to mark Teach Children to Save® Day, which focuses on the importance of developing lifelong saving habits.

To teach your kids how to save, consider these six tips I used to help my own children (now 19 and 21) start early:

  • Set up a savings account. While piggy banks are great for young children saving small amounts of money, savings accounts are a safer place for your children to keep their money. Wells Fargo’s Way2Save® Savings account has no monthly service fees for primary account holders under 18 (19 in Alabama), and can be opened with a deposit of as little as $25. Whether you open a savings account with Wells Fargo or with another bank, consider having your child participate in the Junior Agent® Savers Club, which has fun games and educational tools to help children ages 5 to 12 learn about savings.
  • Save a specific part of each allowance or paycheck. When my kids were 7 or 8, I started giving them a weekly allowance (for chores around the house) and required that they save a specific amount each week. When they were in their teens and got jobs, we continued that habit, and they deposited a portion of each paycheck into a savings account.
  • Automate savings. If you have an account with Wells Fargo, you can automatically transfer part of your child’s allowance to their savings account, or even create a matching savings program to encourage your child to save more. And when your child is ready for a job, she will likely be able to set up direct deposit, and automatically direct a certain amount of each paycheck to a savings account. Their money will start to add up before they know it.
  • Make children accountable for decisions involving their money. While long-term savings are important, it’s also important for children to understand the value of saving for a purchase. When my kids were younger, they wanted to pick out a toy every time we went shopping. If those purchase decisions were made instead with their own spending money — their saved allowance, birthday money, or money specifically intended for the shopping trip — they often decided to keep their money to save for something more significant. If it was using my money, they simply couldn’t live without that new item!
  • Make sure kids’ accounts keep up with their lives. Most kids ages 3-12 don’t have complex spending habits, so a savings account is probably all they need. But as your kids become teenagers, get jobs, and have their own expenses, you should consider opening a checking account to help them manage their money. The Wells Fargo Teen Checking account comes with a debit card and no monthly service fee with online-only statements. Parents can set spending and ATM withdrawal limits, so I think of it as a checking account with “training wheels.”
  • Personalize your approach. Some kids are interested in saving their money from the moment they earn their first dollar, but some will need more encouragement and guidance. You know your kids better than anyone else. Talk to them about strategies that worked for you – and ones that didn’t – and don’t necessarily expect all of your kids to have the same rules. Managing money and building good savings habits are lifelong skills — finding a personalized approach that can work for their personality is a good way to set them up for success.

Of course, these tips are only a starting point, and you may find other ways to help your children learn healthy financial skills. For more tools that will help you and your children as you learn to save, please visit our Hands on Banking® website.

Teaching Children to Save Early Infographic

About Erin
Constantine is head of Consumer Checking and Saving for Wells Fargo’s Deposit Products Group.

Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. Member FDIC.

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Parents, it’s also time for us to get college ready

Mother and daughter on laptop talking about collegeWhen I attended the University of Wisconsin Whitewater from 1984 to 1988, tuition and room and board cost about $3,000 a year. Fast forward to today, when the financial tab to get college ready has risen dramatically. One example: According to an economic letter the Federal Reserve Bank published in 2014, the average college graduate who paid $20,000 in tuition each year would need until age 40 to begin to recoup that sum through earnings.

Surprisingly, the soaring cost of tuition hasn’t kept college-bound students from applying. In fact, the opposite is true. The percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college rose from 36 percent in 2001 to 42 percent in 2011, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

With one of my children attending college and another soon to leave the family nest, I want to see them succeed financially — and that means making sure that I get college ready, too.

If a family or college-bound student builds a financial plan early enough, managing college expenses can be more, well, manageable.

As a parent, I believe it is important that my child fully understand three important fundamentals: paying for college, managing expenses, and managing money/building credit.

Paying for College: Parents may not realize that many colleges offer a calculator to determine total costs, including housing, books, and meal plans. The  total cost might be more than what was expected or planned. When that happens, a parent or family can discuss with their child how best to offset some of those costs – like scholarships, other forms of financial aid, or working part time on campus.

Managing Expenses: Your child might be diligent about turning in homework assignments on time and scoring well on tests, but for many, college may be the first time your children will have to actively manage their own money and pay bills. For that reason, it’s important to spend time with them to help build positive financial habits. Some suggestions to help your child keep their college career on the right path:

  • Help them set up a student or college checking account: Once the account is open, provide guidance on how to monitor the account and share best practices for identifying fraudulent activity.
  • Create a budget: A budget can help students manage spending to save for short-term needs – like books for the upcoming semester – and future goals, such as a spring break vacation with friends. The key to budgeting is being honest with your children about how they’re spending and the true value of their purchases.

Managing Money and Building Credit: As a parent, we’ve learned – sometimes the hard way – that good money management makes sense. It’s helpful to think back to what you didn’t know then that you know now and educate your children how improper money management can negatively impact their credit, which is important because it impacts so many areas of life. For example, having a good credit score can help your son or daughter qualify for a better interest rate for credit products, or save on common necessities like car insurance premiums, cell phone contracts, and apartment rentals when they graduate. A few items worth discussing with your child:

  • Establish credit: Your child’s credit history will exist in one report that tells lenders about his financial history — why it’s a best practice to reinforce the importance of paying bills on time, every time.
  • Manage college debt: Borrow only what is needed. Most experts recommend keeping total loan payments to no more than 10-15 percent of anticipated post-college income. And, look into discounts like enrolling in automatic payments or banking relationship discounts.
  • Plan for the future: Once a graduate has an income, experts recommend putting aside 20 percent of annual salary. To grow savings, encourage your child to set a goal, and then build a plan around it. If she landed her first job, remind her to find out if her employer offers a 401(k) plan that they can contribute to regularly. Even a small contribution towards retirement at the beginning of one’s career can make a big difference later in life.

Luckily there are many free online resources to help us as parents and help our children prepare for college, including Wells Fargo’s interactive website Get College Ready℠. The site brings together the information a family might need to help its college-bound student learn financial basics and become more fiscally responsible. It offers quizzes, calculators, videos, checklists, educational articles, and more.

Regardless of which resource you use, take the time and start getting college ready today.

Wells Fargo What College Costs and What You'll Earn infographic

About John
Rasmussen is head of Education Financial Services, a division of Wells Fargo’s Consumer Lending Group and the second-largest provider of private student loans in the U.S.

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Volunteer for perspective, experiences, and to nurture the soul

Kevin and Nancy Rhein at HeartWalk

Rhein with wife Nancy (and Wells Fargo’s Jack the Dog) at the 2014 Twin Cities Heart Walk.

When you live in Minneapolis, there are a few things you have to accept. Snow is your friend. It will be with you much of the year. There are really only two seasons: winter and road construction. Our sports teams try really hard, but don’t often make it to the postseason. And the state fair has amazing food booths and more things fried and “on a stick” than you can possibly imagine.

But I believe one of the most important things about living here is embracing the community’s commitment to help each other. Volunteering and philanthropy is the rule, not the exception, in Minneapolis.

That sense of duty and compassion is important to the health of the community and a big reason why I love living here. I have always been involved in the communities where I lived — serving on boards, participating in fundraisers, supporting organizations dedicated to helping others.

I believe that community service is part of your responsibility as a citizen. That’s a value my parents taught me, and one I hope my children will embrace, as well. But community service does something else for you, too. It broadens your horizons, deepens your experience — and frankly, it nurtures your soul.

I have learned so much from the people I have worked with on projects and boards. That exposure — to different people and ways of thinking — has made me the father, husband, leader, and citizen I am.

Today, I serve on the board of directors and as a committee chair of the United Negro College Fund and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. And every year I participate in the Twin Cities Heart Walk raising funds for the American Heart Association. This year’s event is Saturday, April 25.

I get asked a lot why I am so passionate about the Heart Walk. It’s because the American Heart Association does a tremendous amount of good for thousands of people in our community. The Heart Walk provides a terrific opportunity to impact the lives of our friends, neighbors, and family.

In my family, both my father and mother have experienced heart-related challenges, so my interest in advancing our knowledge and capabilities to help people live heart-healthy lives is personal. Last year, thanks to the generosity of our friends and family, my wife Nancy and I collected more than $18,000 in contributions, and we are hoping to equal or top that amount this year.

I am always in awe of our team and how they embody our vision and values, not just at community events like the Heart Walk or during our Community Support Campaign, but every day because community involvement is one of the key pillars of our company culture.

April may be National Volunteer Month, but I want to encourage you to make every month a volunteer experience. Every little bit you do helps your communities and you grow stronger.

About Kevin

Rhein, a 38-year veteran of the financial services industry, is chief information officer for Wells Fargo. He is a committed civic volunteer who actively promotes financial literacy.

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Traveling soon? Use credit card rewards to avoid a ‘break the bank’ vacation

Use your credit card to avoid break the bank situations

A good friend of mine and his family consistently take interesting and exciting trips, with much of the airfare and lodging financed from credit card rewards. By studying the terms of his card’s rewards program, he has become an expert on getting the most out of his loyalty program and optimizing points for personal satisfaction.

With high travel season looming, and with more than one-third of Americans expecting their vacation1 to be one of their largest expenses of 2015, credit card rewards and benefits can help.

Using a credit card on a regular basis can earn you points exchangeable for the rewards that work best for you. And from gas to groceries to paying bills, rewards are easy to earn. If you want to be an expert like my friend, read your rewards program terms and conditions carefully as well as your credit card agreement. These two documents will help you understand how you can earn and redeem rewards, as well as know when they expire. Some cards offer cash back while others offer points.

Learn the ins-and-outs of your program to get the most from it, and use these tips to help turn your vacation dreams into reality:

  1. You’ve earned rewards – use them!

Some consumers track rewards and redeem them regularly. Others rarely think about them. If you fall into the second category, check your rewards balance. You may be surprised to find that you’ve earned enough to offset vacation costs like airfare or hotel stays or to redeem the points for gift cards to restaurants or merchants where you’re headed. Alternatively, many programs offer the option to redeem rewards as an account credit, so you can essentially take the money with you on vacation.

  1. Earn rewards for the money you’ll spend on vacation.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the average vacationing consumer spends just over $1,300 for travel, including food, lodging, and transportation. If you’re going to spend that money anyway — and especially if you’re going to use your credit card — why not earn rewards while doing it? By responsibly using your rewards credit card for everyday purchases as well as vacation costs, rewards can add up quickly.

  1. Understand travel-related benefits that come with your credit card.

If your card is lost or stolen while traveling, a quick call to your bank or card issuer can stop charges to your account. In addition to rewards programs, many credit cards offer benefits that are often overlooked. For example, some credit cards may offer 24/7 concierge service to help you plan your trip or even make dinner reservations. Your credit card may also offer rental car insurance, low or no currency-conversion fees, competitive currency conversion rates, and travel protections like insurance for lost or damaged luggage. To learn more about these benefits, read your credit card agreement (which is likely a different document than the rewards program terms and conditions referenced above and is often available online through your credit card issuer).

  1. Look for special travel offers from your rewards program.

Check to see if your credit card offers special travel deals that come with additional rewards from specific retailers. To learn more about the available offers, cardholders can typically check their rewards program website, for example, like My Wells Fargo Rewards and the Earn More Mall®.

Finally, as you plan your vacation, keep budgeting and money management basics in mind. Obviously, if you have major expenses ahead and can’t really afford to travel, it’s best to stay at home. But if you can travel, travel smart. Be sure to let your bank know you’re going out of town and consider using free tools — like online banking, or your bank’s mobile app — to stay on top of your finances and avoid overspending. That way you’ll come home refreshed and stay that way with fewer worries about derailing your financial goals.

Happy travels!

About David
Patron is the head of rewards and offers for Wells Fargo’s Consumer Financial Services team — leading the strategy, innovation, customer experience, and delivery of the Wells Fargo Rewards program.

1 According to a recent Wells Fargo survey.

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Construction industry contributing to job growth

The construction industry continues to be an attractive place to work. Over the past five years we’ve seen slow and steady improvement that has contributed to job growth and that is making this industry more and more appealing. Our recent survey of construction industry executives reveals a sense of optimism that we’re confident will continue for the foreseeable future.

This is the 39th year that we’ve been surveying contractors, manufacturers, and dealers of construction equipment, and gauging their confidence about the year ahead. Our primary metric for measuring that confidence – the Optimism Quotient – is similar to the Consumer Confidence Index and points to whether the outlook for the coming year is better or worse than last year.

The timing of this year’s survey is particularly significant. We polled industry executives throughout January 2015 at a time when the price of crude oil was declining rapidly. Many began to wonder how this development in the energy sector would affect confidence in the construction industry, especially since the equipment types used in these complementary industries can be similar.

Although a sizable number of survey responses came from executives in states with a significant energy presence, we didn’t notice dips in confidence in those states. We see an expanding economy and increased confidence in other growing sectors as contributing factors to the optimism about the nonresidential construction industry.

Four takeaways from our 2015 Construction Industry Forecast, which was released Feb. 25:

  1. The construction industry is even more optimistic about growth than it was a year ago. The Optimism Quotient from 2014 was at an all-time high, so to surpass that for 2015 reveals the broad expectation for continued growth in construction.
  2. Contractors and equipment distributors are bullish about equipment acquisition. Executives told us they’re expecting to buy more new and used equipment to meet increased construction activity.
  3. Equipment rental is also expected to increase. Contractors continue to see the need for short-term rentals that fill job-specific requirements. Distributors said they plan to increase their rental equipment inventory.
  4. Respondents are most concerned about employee wages and benefits, healthcare costs, equipment costs, and taxes.

This year we started surveying contractors about how they attract and retain qualified workers. It’s a topic of concern in the industry, and contractors told us they wanted to hear what others are doing to address the issue. We discovered that many contractors rely on referrals from their current employees to build their workforce. Executives also told us what benefits are most important in their employee-retention efforts. The top three benefit strategies fell into these categories: 1) compensation and bonus, 2) health insurance and 3) overall company culture.

We have created a web page that serves as the hub for information – current and historical – about our annual survey and forecast for ease of use for readers. The page is optimized so you can view it on a desktop, tablet, or handheld device. Take a look at www.wellsfargo.com/constructionforecast and then feel free to share it.


Watch a video of the highlights of the survey.

About John

Crum has worked in the construction equipment finance industry for the past 20 years, holding a variety of positions in sales and credit management. He joined Wells Fargo Equipment Finance in May 2006 and currently serves as national sales manager of its Construction Group.

About Wells Fargo Equipment Finance

Wells Fargo Equipment Finance provides a wide range of capital equipment financing and leasing services for core U.S. industries such as construction, commercial vehicles, health care, and manufacturing.

What do you think?

Are you in the construction industry? How are you feeling about the year ahead? Share your comments below.construction industry optimism quotient

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Women in technology: Leaders weigh in on value, challenges

Clockwise: Robin Beers, Jennifer Spratley, Diana Macias, and Sarah E. Bellrichard

Clockwise: Robin Beers, Jennifer Spratley, Diana Macias, and Sarah Bellrichard

Editor’s note: The status of women in technology continues to spark discussion in the popular press and social media, even as the numbers reflect a continuing industry underrepresentation. Wells Fargo asked four women leaders in Wholesale Banking — who primarily are focused on Wells Fargo’s proprietary Commercial Electronic Office® (CEO®) portal and CEO Mobile® experience — about the situation. An edited version of their conversation follows.

The leaders are: Robin Beers, Customer Experience Insights; Sarah Bellrichard, Wholesale User Experience; Diana Macias, Front-end and Mobile Development; and Jennifer Spratley, Fraud Prevention & Authentication.

Q: In a corporate environment, what are the benefits of a diverse operation?

Sarah: Any organization benefits from its employees’ multiple perspectives that come from diverse experiences. Women bring a thoughtful and considered perspective to an environment; however, it’s really about diversity of voice. In a perfect situation, that leads to a balanced approach or solution.

Jennifer: Having women in leadership roles in technology helps dispel the notion that technology-oriented roles are made for men. It helps other women see it is not only a male-dominated field.

Diana: I want to add to what Jennifer and Sarah are saying: it’s not just female diversity, but all types of diversity. I always look to be in environments with a diverse population. Everybody brings a different perspective, and the magic happens when people have different voices and see things from a different angle. That leads to some pretty dynamic work environments.

Robin: Diverse perspectives and a focus on human relationships are necessary in complex environments where change is the only constant.

Wells Fargo is a company that nurtures and grows leadership capabilities in women. Our environment and projects are complex and require a great deal of coordination and alignment to execute. Women leaders tend to see complexity in terms of whole systems, networks of relationships, and people. This orientation helps shape Wells Fargo’s culture of caring — the quality of the work and the relationships that are fostered to deliver excellent products, services, and experiences. Conceptually speaking, women leaders in technology help everyone to balance the what, the people who make it happen, and the how.

Q: How do you inspire or help women pursue technology careers?

Jennifer: This question really resonates with me because I’m fresh off a trip to Boston. I took my daughter to visit MIT. I support her passion for science, math, and technology one hundred percent, and I am her biggest advocate in helping her pursue what she loves.

Outside of my home, I try to mentor other women and young professionals of any gender. I help them understand their strengths and aspirations and how they can fulfill their personal and professional goals. Regardless of how busy I am, I enjoy the time I spend working with people who are young in their careers. I get so much out of the shared experience.

Sarah: I’m a member of the XX+UX (user experience) group, which is a women’s community of UX professionals. The goal of the group is to create an online environment that reaches this broad social community, and holds events such as meet-ups, hackathons, protothons, and mentoring events. There were three or four mentoring events these past few years where senior professionals met with individuals just entering their careers. In this setting, established UX practitioners reviewed resumes and portfolios, provided feedback, and gave advice on what employers were looking for. I think it’s important to meet with professionals at all levels. I try to be as available as I can to the larger UX community.

Robin: I work with some amazingly talented women who are at the beginning of their careers. I encourage them to take advantage of the wide array of opportunities afforded to them and to try new things. Each role in a company is a piece in the puzzle that makes up the whole company’s success. For example, a product manager in the channel group might transition to my user experience research team. I know her ability to get projects through technology development and out to customers will bring value, as well as how she filters and hears customer feedback in the design phase. Cross-pollination develops capabilities of both the individual and company.

Q: Research suggests that young girls often excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects, but their attitudes changes as they get older. How can this be addressed?

Diana: I have two daughters in college now, and when they were both in high school, they had a high aptitude for math and science, but the institutional support wasn’t necessarily there. I’ve always been a strong advocate and told my kids they can do whatever they want. One of my girls went on to get a computer and electric engineering degree, and she was the only woman who graduated in her program that year.

Attitude changes are not always impacted by one’s gender. I’ve encountered barriers being Hispanic. Throughout a woman’s life, it’s important she not make anything an obstacle to pursue a career in technology.

Jennifer: My answer is partially speculation: Do women think this is a man’s space, and I should pursue something else? Perhaps traditional gender-based biases have an influence; however, I primarily think the love of STEM subjects is partially hard wired and can be learned. My daughter in high school, for example, has a hard-wired passion for STEM subjects and is considering studying them in college.

Robin: I was one of the girls who thought I was bad at math and science, so I don’t know if I’ve figured out the answer!

Q: Work-life balance is often a topic of conversation among working women. How do you approach this balance?

Robin: I tend to think in terms of work and personal identities being blended together. One of the reasons I love Wells Fargo is because team members are able to bring their whole selves to work, and part of that means acknowledging that we have lives outside of our jobs. This became even more critical to me when I decided to become a single mother and had a son on my own five years ago. In fact, I’m trying to get him to put his shoes on for school as we talk! And, that’s what I mean by blend instead of balance. Nothing these days can or needs to stay neatly compartmentalized. By enabling fluidity, everything that needs to be accomplished gets done.

Jennifer: Work/life balance is a challenge. For me, I’ve come to learn that sometimes work gets more of my time than home and vice versa; things sort of even out over time. My success in creating balance depends on staying super organized and always looking ahead two or three weeks on both the home and work fronts. This helps prevent surprises that impact either one. And, of course, sometimes you just have to take a little time for yourself away from work, family, and other obligations to clear your head and recharge, so you can continue to effectively contribute.

Q: What advice would you give to other women interested in careers in technology?

Robin: My advice is that nearly every career will have a technology component, so don’t be afraid of this aspect. Realize that technology is an enabler that allows people to do something in the world. No one on a complex, multifunctional team has the entire answer.  Focus on the part that excites you and what you can bring to the holistic solution. For me, that means ensuring that technology works for people. For another woman, she could be excited about database coding or owning a product from inception to launch. Go to where your interests lie because that’s where your contributions will flourish.

Jennifer: I’m frankly not an innately technical person. I don’t have a STEM educational background, and the bulk of my career has not been in technology roles. I’m a good example of someone who didn’t feel afraid to step into a technical field. I say go for it.  You can do it. You don’t have to be wildly technical to be a leader and successful in this field. I run a very technical business, and many of my direct reports have told me repeatedly that it is an advantage that I’m not as technical as perhaps they are, because I bring a different lens. You definitely have to have some technical aptitude, but you can be successful without being a math superstar or a technical wizard by simply applying basic fundamental skills to your role. It can be advantageous for your business to have a balance of technical and non-technical team members with a range of skill sets.

Sarah: It’s about not giving up. Diana’s example about her daughter being the only woman to graduate from her engineering program is telling. It really is about following your passion and not being intimidated. There is a self-confidence that girls and young women need to hang on to. Regardless of what may feel like a barrier, it’s only there if you let it stop you. That means reaching out if you are finding dead ends and then finding communities that offer support and guidance. Seek out mentors. They will help knock those barriers down and build your confidence up.

Jennifer: After listening to Sarah I feel grateful for not being held back from taking on a technical role, because I didn’t have the right background. It’s evident one can learn and do it. You can bring your other skills to the table and be successful. Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do it if you have an interest.

Diana: I agree with Sarah’s point about having self-confidence. It’s also important to have folks who can support you throughout your journey.

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What to do if you have trouble paying your mortgage

Joe Ohayon talks to nonprofit mortgage counselors

Ohayon participates in a training session at HomeFree-USA, a consumer credit counseling agency in Riverdale, Maryland.

Sometimes life throws us curveballs. Just ask Washington, D.C., resident Sherrie W.

In 2010, a storm destroyed her business and caused her to fall behind on mortgage payments. Sherrie knew she had to do something to keep her home and, after working with Wells Fargo, received a loan modification that reduced her interest rate and monthly payment by hundreds of dollars. This made her mortgage payments more affordable.

Unfortunately, too many people aren’t as proactive as Sherrie in reaching out for help, greatly increasing the likelihood of a negative outcome. So if you’re having trouble paying your mortgage, take these three steps now:

  1. Take initiative to save your home as soon as possible. The sooner you reach out to your mortgage servicer, the more options you’ll have to avoid foreclosure. Far too often, outreach from a company to a homeowner is met with silence. Or, even worse, unscrupulous scammers reach out to homeowners with false promises of mortgage modifications for high fees.

As time passes, the difficult circumstances may become dire. As this happens, opportunities to help keep you in your home fade.

  1. Call your lender or a HUD-approved counselor. Contacting your lender, such as Wells Fargo, or a HUD-approved credit counselor is the most important action you can take. That’s why the work of HUD-approved nonprofits is so vital for homeowners and our country’s housing recovery. In the event Wells Fargo does not have a workshop or physical presence in a community, we work closely with HUD-approved counseling resources across the nation to help homeowners facing problems with their mortgage payments and other credit challenges.
  2. Gather necessary paperwork. Organize all of your home mortgage documents and recent pay stubs — essentially everything you would need to apply for a home loan. Your Wells Fargo home preservation specialist or credit counselor will answer any questions you have.Some of the specific items you should bring with you:
  • A letter explaining your situation.
  • A list of your assets and expenses.
  • Recent paystubs and W-2s for each salaried borrower.

Teaming up

Last year Wells Fargo worked with nonprofit credit counseling agencies to host or participate in 224 home preservation events nationwide. These were attended by 8,003 homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure. (From 2009 through 2014, we’ve met with more than 46,000 struggling homeowners.)

We’re currently working to assist homeowners through nearly 2,000 nonprofit housing counseling agencies in the U.S. and 6,000 housing counselors certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. These are many of the same nonprofits we’ve supported with $40 million in grants since 2009 to help them aid homeowners.

Our latest outreach effort not only includes working with this expanded network of HUD-approved housing counselors but sponsoring local events across the U.S. with these counseling agencies in our Home Preservation Workshop Hosted by Others program.

Following improvement in the housing market, we shifted our approach away from large home preservation workshops in arenas and other venues and now focus on smaller, more local and regional assistance offered through the counseling agencies and HUD-approved counselors.

But it also reflects our desire to serve those customers who live in communities that didn’t host workshops but wanted face-to-face contact. And this new outreach strategy better serves those who are more comfortable reaching out to a third party instead of Wells Fargo to avoid foreclosure.

The HUD-approved counselors help customers understand the loan modification process, find resources to avoid foreclosure, and address credit challenges that extend beyond mortgage payments.

Our commitment to putting customers first has served us well. Wells Fargo delinquency and foreclosure rates are significantly below the industry average, and less than 1 percent of mortgages serviced by Wells Fargo have gone into foreclosure over the past year. In fact, today more than 94 percent of our customers are current with their mortgage payments.

But while the housing market is improving, we know there will always be people like Sherrie who face financial difficulties. That’s why we’ll continue to reach out to our customers and work with HUD-approved counselors to meet their needs as America’s leading home lender. It’s the right thing to do for our customers and our communities.

Need help?

Wells Fargo customers facing mortgage payment challenges can visit www.wellsfargo.com/homeassist/, call 800-678-7986, or visit a HUD-approved counselor.

About Joe
Ohayon is head of community outreach and mortgage servicing for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.

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CommunityWINS grants focus on jobs, housing, and more

Coffin talks about CommunityWINS at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting.

Coffin talks about CommunityWINS at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting.

Earlier this year, I was honored to represent Wells Fargo Home Lending to announce our new CommunityWINS grant program at the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C.

An extension of our successful Leading The Way Home® and NeighborhoodLIFT® and CityLIFT® programs, CommunityWINS is available to nonprofits in cities of all sizes across the U.S. through their local mayor and the USCM. These innovative grants will inject $3 million over three years into programs aimed directly at important issues such as workforce development, cleaning up neighborhoods, and renovation of housing.

When Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, California, who is the current president of the USCM, gave his “State of the Cities” address to the gathering, his leadership, passion, and crystal clear vision was very impactful and well received by all in attendance.

Mayor Johnson, who is also known for his previous exploits as an NBA Basketball All-Star, clearly spelled out his belief that the role of leadership at the local level and municipalities is becoming increasingly critical to the continuing revitalization of neighborhoods and communities. He spoke of how local governments need to leverage all resources available at the local level to directly impact critical needs. And he passionately called for their leadership because the future stability and revitalization of their cities is firmly on the plate of each and every mayor.

You can learn more about the CommuntyWINS grant program and/or find application information at www.usmayors.org/communitywins. The application deadline is March 16. USCM members or nonprofits seeking additional information may also contact Gene Lowe at USCM at 202-861-6710 or send an email to CommunityWINS@wellsfargo.com.

His remarks clearly reinforce and confirm that Wells Fargo’s local community efforts are correctly placed and provide the help where it is most needed. CommunityWINS provides direct local funding for selected nonprofit programs while also fostering “best in class” ideas for others to follow.

In addition, we extend our relationship with the USCM, validating the effective work that we have done with them over the past three years and serving as a model to our industry as to what a successful public and private collaboration can look like!

Homeownership, a dream come true

Our alliance with USCM initially focused on foreclosure prevention and property maintenance and care. While we are very proud of our accomplishments, and the housing market is improving, Wells Fargo understands there is more work to be done. Yes, millions of Americans have successfully refinanced their homes and repositioned themselves to be able to make their payments, but there are still many opportunities for us to provide direct support to neighborhoods and homeowners and to ensure that credit opportunities are available for all qualified borrowers.

In 2014, Wells Fargo’s nationwide Homeownership Survey found that 87 percent of Americans view homeownership as an achievement to be proud of and a full 95 percent intend to own a home someday if they don’t already. It’s proof of just how important the community efforts we have been talking about can be to the vast majority of Americans.

It is exciting that we are continuing our collaborative efforts and moving forward with the local assistance needed. We know that as a company we are only successful when the communities we live in and work in are successful; when customers and constituents can afford and sustain home ownership. And we know that with the help of our local governments and nonprofits, we can help make the American dream of homeownership come true for thousands more in coming years.

About Mary
Coffin is head of Wells Fargo Home Lending Customer Excellence and leads a team working with all of Home Lending’s businesses to use customer feedback to improve communications and services and enhance the overall customer experience.

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Four ways to save more for retirement

Gas savings help household budget infographicIn my family, we have five drivers who are always zipping around visiting friends, family, and going to work — so it’s no surprise that we’ve realized a very significant monthly savings with the low prices at the gas pump in recent months.

According to the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index, we aren’t alone. Investors reported saving an average of $108 a month. That’s good news in and of itself but what really pleases me is what people are doing with the savings, and how that can help them save more for retirement: 70 percent are using the money to improve their financial health. Breaking that number down, 37 percent are using it to pay down bills, and 33 percent are saving those extra dollars. Gas savings improve balance sheet graphic

That’s music to my ears, considering that I come to work every day thinking about how to help people prepare for retirement. Investments, diversification, and many other factors are important, too, but none can happen without saving first.

Don’t know where to start? Consider these four steps to jumpstart your retirement savings:

  1. Get started today: It’s never too late or too early to start saving and realize the benefits from compound earnings. Let’s say you began setting aside $50 in a 401(k)-type plan each month beginning at age 25. By age 65, this could grow into more than $125,000! Compare that to saving $100 each month in a 401(k)-type plan beginning at age 45. Although both scenarios equal the same amount contributed in total, in the second scenario, the estimated outcome at age 65 would be just over $52,000.1
  2. Enroll in a 401(k) or company plan: If you have access to a 401(k) plan through work, take advantage of it. If your employer offers a match, try to save at least enough to capture the full match otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table.
  3. Save 10 percent: A general rule of thumb is to strive to save at least 10 percent of your gross salary (which can include your employer’s match). If you need to start lower than that, consider signing up for an automatic contribution increase if your 401(k) plan offers it, which automatically bumps up your contributions to your 401(k) plan by 1 percent annually. It can help ease you into saving a little more each year.
  4. Take financial inventory:  It can be very helpful – and eye-opening – to take inventory of your finances periodically. Take advantage of any spending reports available to you from your bank or credit card company. It’s important to understand your spending patterns to find ways to save more.

Have you noticed where your gas savings are going? What have you done with that extra money? Let others learn from your example by sharing your stories using the comments feature below.First quarter 2015 Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index story infographicAbout Joe
Ready is the director of Institutional Retirement and Trust for Wells Fargo, and he is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He oversees employer-sponsored retirement plans as well as institutional trust and custody services provided by Wells Fargo, with a mission to help America’s diverse workforce prepare for a better retirement.

1 Based on 7% annual rate of return. This example is for illustration purposes only and is not intended to represent the return of any specific investment. Estimates are based on the assumptions noted, do not guarantee or imply a projection of actual results, and do not include the effect of taxes. Wells Fargo cannot guarantee results under any savings or investing program, including a regular investment program, and cannot guarantee that you will meet your retirement savings goal.
Recordkeeping, trustee, and/or custody services are provided by Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust, a business unit of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., a bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company. This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. Please contact an investment, financial, tax, or legal advisor regarding your specific situation.
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