Wells Fargo takes a different approach to global operations from many of the other banks participating at the SWIFT Sibos conference in Dubai this month.

Unlike HSBC which ran an advertising campaign declaring it is “the world’s local bank,” Wells Fargo might toy with a line like “The global bank for American corporations.”

While many other US banks have grown from the bottom up through acquisitions and have acquired local market infrastructures, Wells Fargo supports its clients outside the US through a top-down approach, said Judd Holroyde, head of Wells Fargo’s global product management.
“We have shifted our view and decided the way to drive consistency is from the top down, keep a single customer portal. We have taken everything in our new [wholesale] branch services platform and tied them back to the enterprise so we create a cohesive customer experience.”

The bank’s primary customer base is US corporations and their subsidiaries abroad, he added. For a US parent, it makes sense to use Wells Fargo for subsidiaries abroad because it facilities interactivity between domestic and foreign operations – they get consistency on products and billing, and it is easier to handle approvals for something like a wire that originates in a foreign office and requires a sign-off from the parent.

“Because we are primarily focused on the subsidiaries of the U.S. company and not nearly as focused on market acquisition of local companies in one of these local markets, we can stay committed to the products and services our customers need.”

The bank enforces a high level of standardization through its operations globally – aiming for no more than 5 percent variation market to market. That means it doesn’t offer much customization to compete, but the bank has decided its approach offers more value to its customers, Holroyde said.
“A standard product set that is deployed in multiple markets affords more value to the customer and a better total experience than a highly customized offering which may have a little more per market product depth but at the expense of consistency.”

And just who tells a local country manager that she can’t have a customized feature?
“Right now it is the product side and we have pretty rigid standards,” said Holroyde, who has been pleasantly surprised at the acceptance of the standards.

“I find it amazing because we thought you would get a tremendous amount of pushback from the local marketplace but the local markets understand value to the customer increases with standardization and interoperability.”

This way, if a treasury manager in a US firm moves abroad, he will find the Wells Fargo interface familiar.

“If we use a system in the US and extend to international we can provide better continuity and visibility. We have the Commercial Electronic Office with 80-100 products and services. We are extending that same portal to encompass any of these new international capabilities, so we can support the portal and apps in a consistent way on a global basis.

Maintaining a standard platform also reduces costs and allows the bank to roll out new features and products because its infrastructure is the same globally.

“If you take expansion through acquisition, buying small banks in multiple markets, you end up with multiple different DDA and wire systems,” he added. “In many cases you will see banks spend time and effort to integrate these acquired systems rather than replacing them and moving to a single consistent processing environment. That is where we have the benefit of this top-down approach. We aren’t integrating what we bought; instead we are pushing out one thing we control to multiple places.”