WisBusiness: Wells Fargo hopes to manage EdVest

By Abby Peterson

Representatives from Wells Fargo indicated Wednesday at a meeting of the College Savings Board that they hoped to add the EdVest program to their mutual funds company.

Promising to energetically market the 529 program, Matt Lobes, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo, said, “Our number one focus is increasing in Wisconsin the number of people enrolled in 529.”

Wells Fargo, a San Francisco-based company worth over $400 billion, currently does not run any 529 programs nationwide. The programs allow people to invest money for college and withdraw it tax free.

In May, Wells Fargo announced the planned purchase of Strong Financial Corp., which has run the EdVest program since 2001. The agreement was made after Strong faced allegations of illegal trading practices and a subsequent civil settlement.

Officials from Wells Fargo indicated they would not know the shape of the new corporate entity in Wisconsin — neither the number of Strong jobs they would retain in the Menomonee Falls area nor the company’s name born from the acquisition — until the corporate transfer is formalized at year’s end. They did, however, say they would continue to utilize Strong employees and the company’s strength in marketing and distribution after the takeover.

The board also considered plans to increase stability for EdVest investors, who faced an uncertain investment future for the program due to the fallout from the Strong corporate scandal.

“We have to convey to investors a sense of security,” Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, said, emphasizing that the board must insure the program enters a “calm harbor” for EdVest investors.

The EdVest program plans to create an online survey on potential fund options to gain investor input about the program and more closely customize the higher education savings plan to the needs of Wisconsin residents.