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Wells Fargo Deploys ATM Donations to Aid Japan Relief Efforts

Wells Fargo's 9,000 ATMs are accepting customer donations to the American Red Cross in the wake of the March 11 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Wells Fargo customers are using the bank's ATMs to make donations to the American Red Cross in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that affected Japan. A simple process for the customer, it's the first time the San Francisco-based bank has deployed the technology nationally in the wake of disaster.

And it was able to do so in less than a day.

"We built the feature to be a tool that we could deploy fast," says Jonathan Velline, EVP and head of ATM Banking and Store Strategy for Wells Fargo, "recognizing that when there are these situations where there is a disaster, it’s important to be able to react quickly."

The functionality was built into Wells Fargo's core ATM application in 2005, and has since been used regionally to respond to disasters as a tool to raise money to help a community in time of need.

"Really what generated this feature was a conversation we had maybe six years ago," Velline says, "how can we use this technology to help our communities, help our customers if there’s a need."

The option to make a donation is built into the transaction flow of the ATM. The bank essentially switches it on by running a script over the network, and can have the feature up and running on all of its machines within 24 hours.

In the case of responding to the crisis in Japan, the decision to deploy the donation function to Wells Fargo's ATMs came during a Monday morning meeting. "We made it available as our corporate team was determining how they were going to respond to this global tragedy," Velline says, adding that it was up and running the same evening.

What a customer sees during their transaction is an option off the main menu to donate to charity. By selecting that button they can then select an organization to donate to — in this case the American Red Cross is the featured organization — and then select which bank account they wish to make a donation from and then the specific amount they want to donate. Whereas a text donation to the American Red Cross can only be made in $10 increments, a Wells Fargo customer using one of its ATMs can donate anything from a penny to $249.99. Velline adds that American Red Cross has an account with Wells Fargo; when a customer makes a donation, the funds are transferred into the Red Cross' bank account and are available to the organization almost immediately.

The feature is available to Wells Fargo customers using any of the bank's 9,000 Wells Fargo-branded ATMs. The bank is still in the midst of converting its Wachovia properties to Wells Fargo, and has a national total of 12,000 ATMs.

Velline couldn't share any numbers, but says the initial response from customers has been good - they're finding the feature and they're using it.

"The other thing we’ve seen is just a great outpouring in social media," he adds. "We’ve been tracking Twitter and blogs and things like that. Customers are not only finding it for themselves but they’re letting their friends know."

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