Wells Fargo tilts philanthropic focus to affordable housing

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Wells Fargo announced Wednesday that Brandee McHale will join the bank as head of its philanthropic efforts.

She will succeed Jon Campbell, a longtime Wells Fargo executive who is planning to retire on Dec. 31, the San Francisco company said. McHale is scheduled to become head of the Wells Fargo Foundation on Aug. 1 and will be charged with implementing a revised philanthropic strategy that will have a heavy focus on housing affordability.

McHale, who has spent decades working in philanthropy, was most recently president of the Citi Foundation, Citigroup’s philanthropic arm.

Wells increased its spending on philanthropy from $287 million in 2017 to $444 million last year following the passage of tax cuts that juiced the bank’s bottom line.

Last year’s philanthropic giving totaled just under 2% of Wells Fargo’s net income, and the bank has established a forward-looking target of setting aside 2% of after-tax profits for corporate philanthropy.

But how that pot of money gets divided will be changing.

“I think we’re known as a great check-writer,” Campbell said during a conference call with reporters, adding that the bank wants to earn a reputation as a problem-solver.

Over each of the next six years, Wells said that it plans to donate approximately $150 million, which equals roughly one-third of the company’s annual charitable giving, to efforts to improve housing affordability.

In the past, the $1.9 trillion-asset bank has given smaller, but still substantial sums to housing-related philanthropy. Such spending peaked at around $100 million per year in the wake of the financial crisis, according to Campbell.

He said that in the coming years, Wells plans to place a greater focus on affordable rental housing and combating homelessness.

“Philanthropically we’ve been focused on home ownership,” Campbell said. “It’s really time to balance it out.”

Wells announced that its philanthropic strategy will also focus on financial health and small-business growth, though the bank did not provide spending targets in those areas.

Wells Fargo plans to spend approximately one-third of its philanthropy budget — or approximately $150 million annually — on causes chosen in local communities where it operates, according to Campbell. “That’s down a little bit, but it’s still a very substantial commitment,” he said.

Campbell declined to say what types of charities are likely to receive less money from Wells Fargo as a result of the company’s increased focus on housing affordability.

“Whenever you have to change relationships, you don’t do it immediately. You do it over time, and you do it in a sensitive fashion,” he said.

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