Wells Fargo creates new stakeholder relations group run by head of IR

Jul 20, 2017
Move brings together IR, corporate communications and government relations to foster 'integrated' approach

Wells Fargo has created a new stakeholder relations group that brings together investor relations with other communications departments to encourage a more ‘integrated’ approach to engaging with key audiences.

The reorganization sees IR move from part of the finance operation to the new group, where it will sit alongside corporate communications and government relations & public policy (GRPP).

Wells Fargo has promoted Jim Rowe, the head of IR and a 12-year veteran of the bank, to lead the new department. His ‘knowledge of the business and proven ability to partner across the company make him ideal to advance our efforts to create an aggregated stakeholder view,’ the company says in a press release.

The bank hopes the changes will lead to better communications with its key stakeholders as it seeks to rebuild trust following 2016’s sales scandal, where employees opened more than 2 mn unauthorized accounts. The fallout led to the resignation of CEO John Stumpf in October last year.

‘As Wells Fargo continues to focus on rebuilding trust and building a better bank, it’s more important than ever that our key stakeholder relationships and strategies are well integrated,’ says Hope Hardison, head of the chief administrative office, in the release.

In April Wells Fargo released a 113-page report into the scandal following an internal investigation. It found a decentralized structure had contributed to the bank’s failure to halt the sales practices.

The launch of a stakeholder relations group follows other communications changes at Wells Fargo. Earlier this year the bank overhauled its GRPP unit by bringing together several areas that had been run from different parts of the bank, including federal, regulatory and state relations, according to a report from Reuters. David Moskowitz, the head of the GRPP unit, told the newswire the changes were not a response to the internal investigation but rather about better co-ordinating its public policy approach.

Bringing IR and other stakeholder relations together in one department marks a change from common practice at many larger companies where IR is typically part of the finance function and the team leader reports directly to the CFO. John Shrewsberry, Wells Fargo’s finance chief, explains in the company announcement that IR will maintain a ‘deep partnership with the finance organization’ despite the changes.

This kind of approach ‘makes it easier for companies to integrate relevant content across all stakeholder groups and, in so doing, addresses the various segments within stakeholder groups,’ comments Rob Berick, managing director at US-based Falls Communications.

But making such a change requires strong management buy-in and a leader well versed in both the business and all communications disciplines, he adds: ‘That team leader needs to have access to and credibility with the C-suite to ensure the integrated model remains tightly aligned with business needs and market opportunities.’

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