Q&A: Rob Prigge, Senior Vice President, Wells Fargo Trust Operations, Wealth, Brokerage and Retirement Division

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Describe your career path.

I began my career as a consultant with Andersen Consulting and spent three years there. I was hired by my client, a predecessor to Wells Fargo. I've been with the bank for 23 years, working in various technology groups and culminating in trust systems management. I moved into trust operations, where I've been for the past 17 years. Initially my role was to assist with the conversion of trust entities that were acquired by Wells Fargo. My role continued to broaden and I now head trust operations for the bank. Most recently, my focus was on managing the transition of Wachovia trust customers to the Wells Fargo trust accounting system.

Describe your role at Wells Fargo.

Operations in the trust world is the "back office" of trust, from which all securities processing activities, cash movement, reconciliation, accounting, fee processing and customer statement services are provided in support of the entire "trust community" of businesses. This includes corporate trust, wealth, family wealth, retirement, custody and investment management groups (excluding brokerage). We act as a shared services utility on behalf of these collective businesses. I report to the head of retirement and support that business, as well as the other trust and investment businesses within the bank.

What is a typical day like for you?

I'm in the office at 6:30 a.m. We tend to start earlier, to account for the market opening on the East Coast. Over the past year-and-a-half, my role has been focused primarily on integrating Wachovia's trust operations into Wells Fargo trust operations. So at the outset, it meant getting to know our partners at Wachovia, working through the selection process of the trust platform, and working through our operating model. The integration of Wachovia's trust operations, and bringing together two large companies has given us an opportunity to take a fresh look at the organization, confirming some of our processes and changing others. Historically, we've operated from one site, but now operations runs through Minneapolis and Charlotte. This is changing our fundamental operating model in a good way because each site can function as a back-up site for the other in case of an emergency. Since the integration began, I'm working with our partner groups to effect a successful integration, including technology, risk management, finance, human resources, communications, and trust business leaders of each business to ensure their needs are met.

How has the world of operations changed compared with when you first started?

There have been more regulations related to the financial industry, and we expect this will result in material changes in the business. We support securities in the derivatives market and are expecting more regulations in that area. Technology was present when I started out, but today it has become a far more vital aspect of how we work. There are centralized trust accounting systems, which provide the primary accounting and customer statements for our clients, and there is also significant technology investment peripheral to this core application. Since our transactions tend to be increasingly automated, we need problem solvers and analytical people who can deal with exceptions when something doesn't flow "straight through." The future will be shaped by imaging and image-based workflow that will reduce our use of paper and streamline how we service our customers.

What advice do you have for an up and coming operations professional?

Communication skills-verbal and written-are important to be effective in trust operations and any area of the trust business. I'd recommend general business and technology coursework. Classes in writing, communications, accounting, computer science, quantitative methods and information systems would all be helpful. Any studies-inside or outside of college-that help in understanding financial markets, investment management, and security asset classes will put you ahead. Opportunities to participate in team-based activities or operate in a project management role would be helpful too. Generally, operations in our industry will soon see turnover of a generation of legacy professionals who are approaching retirement. As a result, there will be a need for new leaders and securities processing professionals. Operations involves multiple disciplines, so the next generation of professionals will need to have an aptitude for technology, risk management, and workflow re-engineering. At Wells Fargo, we've benefited from people seeking broadening career opportunities from other units in the company, such as moving from the mortgage business or teller lines to operations. It's much easier since you're already part of the company. It' possible to move within the bank and build a career in operations.

What skills are most important in operations?

Attitude, attention to detail, analytical and conceptual thinking skills, and a technical aptitude are all important. It's helpful to be disciplined in project management and understand risk management principles. Operations has been successful bringing in team members that have the right aptitudes, not always requiring a résumé of operations experience. Operations professionals can come from a variety of educational and work backgrounds. If someone enters operations early in their career we can train them. Anyone who has the desire and aptitude to learn and grow in operations can build a successful career in this area.

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