About 100 people, Somali Americans with their supporters from labor unions, and from citizen activist groups staged a noisy rally in front of the Wells Fargo branch at 3030 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis on Friday January 13, 2012, to draw attention to the serious humanitarian crisis in Somalia and to plead with Wells Fargo to take the leadership to resolve the issue.
Since late December, Somali Americans living in Minnesota have been unable to send financial support — a much-needed lifeline — to their loved ones living in East Africa. At that time, a small community bank stopped working with Hawalas, the community-based financial institutions that are the only practical method to transfer funds to famine-stricken Somalia. There was a large rally at the State Capitol January 6, 2012 highlighting the desperate plight of Somali families.
Despite the cold temperatures, Wells Fargo would not allow the entire group into the building. Instead people who wanted to withdraw their money from the bank were admitted one-by-one until all had withdrawn their money.
Wells Fargo was the first major bank to stop working with the Hawalas (the informal money transfer network that fills in for the lack of banking system in Somali). Until late December 2011 a small community bank, the only connection to the Somalia Hawalas, stopped their service leaving the Somali community with no way to transfer money to that famine ravaged country.
Wells Fargo is one of the largest banks serving the Somali community in Minnesota, the largest Somali population in the U.S. Somali American believe that Wells Fargo has an opportunity to take on a leadership role and provide assistance. Wells Fargo has thus far not been willing to work with the community and their unique financial needs. As a result, Somali Americans gathered in front of the Wells Fargo branch to once again ask for a meeting to discuss the situation. Not being granted a meeting at that time, many in the crowd chose to close their accounts until the situation is finally resolved.
Wells Fargo regional spokesperson Staci Schiller reported that in 2008 Wells Fargo ended the relationship with Hawalas. This was a business decision, the reasons are proprietary. There are no plans to reinstate the relationship. She did say that the Wells Fargo regional leadership team has a meeting scheduled for the week of January 16 with representatives of the Somali community in Minnesota. She stated that Wells Fargo has number of Somalis in leadership positions in the bank and that it provide volunteer support for the Somali community.
The personal pain of those rallying was very evident as well as their resolve to get Wells Fargo to step up and lead the way to a solution.