History For Profit
A summary of an article in the Wall Street Journal
May 19/20, 2007
Wells Fargo Bank has found a way to gain the confidence of its depositors, and they’re using history to do it. According to a May article by Ann Carrns of the Wall Street Journal, the bank is encouraging its commercial and big-money clients to do even more of their banking and keep more of their personal holdings with Wells Fargo simply by sending an historian out into the field to research their clients’ family histories and then share these with those interested. Andy Anderson is the chief historian at San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. Besides providing a family history, Dr. Anderson also tries to offer copies of historical documents that have particular meaning for the family. For instance, for kosher winemaking brothers in New Jersey, whose family had suffered in the Holocaust in Slovakia, he provided them a copy of the passenger manifest from their flight out of Prague in 1948, as they sought to flee the communist takeover there. Their parents’ and the children’s names were listed among twenty-nine others. Wells Fargo is banking on the brothers’ elation at such tangible evidence of their past to inspire them to invest more of their personal fortunes with the bank. According to the article, Dr. Anderson “has a PhD in history from Ohio State. After joining [the bank] in 1977, he helped organize [their] archives…. [He] also helped create several of the bank’s nine Wells Fargo museums.” Apparently, extremely wealthy families are eager to learn their histories, mostly so they can impress upon the next generation how much work and sacrifice were involved in amassing that wealth. The work is plentiful for Dr. Anderson: “With so much genealogical material now available on the Internet, he can often complete much of the work cheaply and within a few weeks. Wells Fargo recently hired a second PhD historian to assist with family histories….” So, just when you assumed historians must teach or work for the government, here’s another possible outlet for an historian’s skills!