Wells Fargo Managers Partner with the IRC in Los Angeles to Provide Financial Literacy Training
By Steven Covelman
When Karmen Edgarian came to the U.S. from Iran over a decade ago she made some financial mistakes.
“I did not know what the differences were between banking in Iran and banking here,” Edgarian said. “I needed someone to teach me.”
Now, as a Wells Fargo branch manager in Glendale, Edgarian is providing financial literacy training to the refugees and asylees of the IRC in Los Angeles.
“I want to give them more than what I had when I arrived in the U.S.,” Edgarian said.
For the last five years Edgarian has been speaking to as many IRC in Los Angeles refugees and asylees as she can to help give them an easier start. When Edgarian is unavailable assistant branch manager Janet Tahmasian steps in to help. She has been involved with the IRC in Los Angeles for three years.
“When I work with the IRC in Los Angeles I always leave thinking that I helped make a difference in someone’s life,” Tahmasian said. “Karmen and I are able to speak Armenian with many of them, provide them with comfort, and be a source of support.”
At meetings Edgarian and and Tahmasian give refugees basic American financial information. Both have found that keeping it simple is the best way to make sure what they are teaching has an impact.
“Initially we show them how to write checks, how to open a savings or checking account, and other things that may be different from what they are used to back home,” Edgarian said. “We always want to stay on topic to make sure everything is clear.”
One specific difference that Edgarian and Tahmasian always go over with refugees from Iran is postdated checks. While writing checks for a future date is acceptable in Iran, it is considered risky in the U.S. and is generally not encouraged.
Common mistakes like this have made Edgarian and Tahmasian more aware of what they need to teach new arrivals. As a result, the amount of financial issues from refugees and asylees that they see each year has decreased.
“We learn a lot each time we come to the IRC in Los Angeles,” Tahmasian said. “It makes us better teachers.”
For Edgarian and Tahmasian educating refugees and asylees on financial matters does not stop at the IRC in Los Angeles office. Though they are not obligated or encouraged to, many refugees and asylees choose to open accounts at the Wells Fargo branch where both of them work.
“If they decide to bank with us then we are able to provide them with more individualized attention,” Edgarian said. “We are able to tell them exactly what they need and how to plan for the future.”
Even if they are not Wells Fargo clients Edgarian and Tahmasian still provide refugees and asylees with assistance.
“Sometimes we tell them what to tell other bankers to do,” Edgarian said. “If they do not know English we will make calls for them. If they are having trouble understanding their bills, we help them with that too. We always make sure that their issues are resolved by the time they leave our office.”
This kind of service is what has made Edgarian, Tahmasian, and Wells Fargo well-established in Glendale’s refugee community.
“We earn their trust and they are like a family to us,” Tahmasian said. “We have even hired a number of IRC people to work here, not to mention the amount of weddings we have been invited to.”
Each year Wells Fargo branches make a donation to the nonprofit organization of their choice. For Edgarian and Tahmasian that decision is an easy one.
“We always choose the IRC in Los Angeles,” Edgarian said. “Giving back is always at the heart of what we do and what they do. We could not be happier to have this partnership.”