BLOG VIEW: The news from Haiti has been very upsetting, and many Americans have generously gone out of their way to show their support for the relief efforts currently under way in that devastated country. Within the financial services world, some interesting stories relating to the Haiti crisis deserve to be shared.
In Cresco, Iowa, C US Bank helped to organize a community-level response with a fairly wacky gimmick. Bank president J. Scott Thomson challenged his customers to raise more than $1,063 within a week for the American Red Cross' Haiti relief efforts. That odd number mirrors the 1,063 miles between the small Iowa town and the Caribbean country. As a kicker, Thomson and several of his male executives promised they would wear women's high-heel shoes to work for a day if that sum was matched.
It appears that the desire to see male Iowa bankers in female footwear is stronger than one might think – C US Bank raised more $3,100 for the Red Cross. Thomson and his colleagues happily teeter-tottered around the bank for a day in heels, and C US Bank added to the fundraiser with its own $1,000 donation to the Red Cross.
Stories like that one help to provide a human face to the financial services world – and considering what has transpired in the industry over the past couple of years, we could certainly benefit from good news. However, another news item regarding Haiti also popped up, and we need to be aware of the ramifications of that event that deserve attention.
In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, many Americans were eager to make donations to relief organizations by using their credit cards. However, Wells Fargo subsidiary Wachovia decided to add a 3% fee on certain donations made with their Visa card. Thus, money that was meant to help earthquake victims was, instead, going into Wachovia's pocket.
Enter Heather Lynn, a college student that was displeased with this 3% fee. Lynn set up a Facebook page called ‘Wachovia=Fail’ on Jan. 20. Lynn, working without the help of a professional publicist, began to catch the attention of others who learned about the Wachovia fees. Within two weeks, ‘Wachovia=Fail’ attracted more than 3,000 Facebook ‘fans’ and was packed with comments by angry people who were encouraging the withdrawal of all accounts from Wachovia and Wells Fargo.
Fortunately, this story ended happily. Wells Fargo got wind of Lynn's campaign and, using its own Facebook page, announced the termination of all fees relating to donations to Haitian relief efforts. The fees that were collected were refunded, and the financial services giant went the extra mile by waiving fees on consumer wire transfers to Haiti through June 2010. However, one Facebook jokester had a parting comment for Wells Fargo, writing, ‘Can you now help the mortgage customers and improve customer service from the loss mitigation department of Wells Fargo Mortgage?’
Coincidentally, as I was writing this column, an e-mail came in from Embrace Home Loans in Newport, R.I., that detailed how it raised more than $20,000 that will benefit Partners with Haiti, a nonprofit organization that supports the island nation's orphanages. The company's employees donated a wealth of items for the auction, including tickets to New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox games and a sport-fishing trip to Florida. The press release added that the company chose to forgo its annual meeting and work on behalf of the earthquake victims.
Praise should be given to C US Bank and Embrace Home Loans for proactively showing the genuine sincerity of the financial services industry, and I would also like to congratulate Wells Fargo for its quick damage-control efforts following that Facebook flap. Crises bring out the best and worst in people, and in this case, it appears that our industry is putting its best face forward.
And as a post-script, you may have noticed an advertisement on the left-hand side of this MortgageOrb page for the Red Cross' Haitian relief fund. If you have a few extra dollars in your wallet, feel free to click on that advertisement and invest in helping the earthquake victims.
– Phil Hall, editor, [b][i]Secondary Marketing Executive[/i][/b]
[i] (Please address all comments regarding this opinion column to firstname.lastname@example.org.)[/i]