When Jacqueline Camarena, 20, started her second job at fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A, located at 4401 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., she had not yet acquired the skills to budget her earnings or establish credit.According to Kristie Bergstrom, the franchise’s owner, Camarena is not alone in her lack of understanding of managing finances. To address the gap of financial knowledge she found in her employees, Bergstrom took advantage of the Wells Fargo at Work program offered by Wells Fargo bank. The initiative allows a business to build a relationship with a bank representative, who presents a series of in-person financial workshops customized to fit employees’ needs. A new Wells Fargo branch opened April 2 across the street from Chick-fil-A, almost six months after the fast food franchise opened.
Since Bergstrom has always banked with Wells Fargo, she said that it’s a brand she trusts. She also said she knew a location was opening across the street and that she wanted a close connection.
“By opening up a bank account and leaving, you’re leaving a lot on the table,” Bergstrom said. “But when you have a relationship with the branch manager and banker, then you’re constantly able to get tips and strategies, as well as being introduced to new products that will help your business financially succeed.”
“I found among my team members that [financial wellness] is just not a topic that’s ever covered. They haven’t heard about it in school,” Bergstrom said. “It’s a foreign concept that’s very scary, especially to a 17- or 20-year-old. Trying to set an early foundation will help them through their whole life.”
Bergstrom set up four workshops for her franchise’s 100 employees on Sundays, the day Chick-fil-A is closed. Dina Noe, the Wells Fargo branch manager, conducted the first session on budgeting and savings. She gave the team a challenge to create a budget and save their receipts for a month to track their spending. Bergstrom plans to award all those who participate with gift cards and enter them to win another gift card for $150.
“We talked about discipline, watching your spending and putting money aside. We want them to understand how to make a sound business decision before they get a credit card,” Noe explained. “[The employees] get accounts and benefits, cashier’s checks and a savings account. They can earn interest and get a debit card,” she said in describing the bank’s services. “We want to get out and get to know our local businesses. We want to do this as often as we can.”
Camarena, who started at Chick-fil-A about three and a half months ago, learned through tracking her receipts that she was spending more money on food than she thought. “I’m by myself a lot since my mom is working and my sister is in school. I didn’t want to cook for myself, so I would go out,” she said. “Now I’m trying to eat at home. . . . Every time I go out I look at my budget. Before that, I would just spend money and my check would go by so quickly.”
At the first session, Camarena also learned the importance of setting money aside for an emergency. “They said, ‘if something happens to your car, what are you going to do?’ I had saved before, but it was for something I knew I wanted; I didn’t have a backup,” she said. “I’m also trying to build up my credit and I don’t know where to start.”
The next session, providing instruction on how to use credit, is on May 6. Other future topics include paying for college and student loans as well as saving for retirement. “I think people hear horror stories about [credit],” Bergstrom said. “It’s a good thing; it just has to be established correctly.”
Bergstrom said the relationship with the bank provides support for her employees and keeps them accountable in meeting their goals. “Our team members know Dina and the managers personally. It feels comfortable; they’re not scared of asking questions because they can go right across the parking lot,” she said. “Dina will pop in and ask them if they’re saving their receipts. It’s a constant connection between workshops.”
In February, Noe and Bergstrom planned out the topics of the presentations based on the needs of the Chick-fil-A team. In addition to their youth, another shared commonality is that many of them provide financial support to their families. This includes Camarena, who is the oldest of three daughters to a single mother. “I want to help out and hopefully that [Saving for Retirement] class helps me,” Camarena said. “I want to help out at home. I want to help my family move to a bigger place. We live in an apartment now.”
According to Natasha Mata, the Wells Fargo region bank president of the Central L.A. area, Camarena and her mother reflect a larger trend of financial insecurity, which she aims to combat through the Wells Fargo at Work program.
“We’ve identified that many of [our customers] do not have the education and foundation to understand what financial services are and how to understand the basic fundamentals of being financially successful,” she said. “Our financial literacy program helps them get on their feet and know what that looks like so they have a better opportunity to be successful in the future.”
According to statistics from Wells Fargo, slightly more than half of Americans struggle to make ends meet, 71% report money as their biggest source of stress and 28% of workers report feeling distracted on the job due to financial concerns.
“Wells [Fargo] at Work is such a big component for us as a company to help all of our small business owners,” Mata said. “We really believe in this program, that it will help our customers and community continue to thrive.”
Camarena plans to attend all of the sessions offered at Chick-fil-A, since none of her classes at school focused on navigating life situations that require saving money and building credit. “I’m glad we have this opportunity; it’s awesome,” she said. “We want to go out, and we don’t think about our future that much.”
According to Mata, the program continues as long as the businesses want the workshops; there is no specific time line. “My big passion is developing my team and helping them grow out of the restaurant,” Bergstrom said. “This is the first job for many of them and I certainly hope it’s not their last. I don’t want them to stay long term. I want them to grow in their career. Then we’ll get new [employees] and we can start the program over with them.”
“It’s really nice to feel that support as a small business because you can talk one on one about what to do for the team members,” Bergstrom explained. “The program is really personalized. That’s so impactful for the business.”