Movers and Shakers: Laurie Nordquist, Director of Institutional Retirement & Trust, Wells Fargo

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

According to Laurie Nordquist, Director of Institutional Retirement and Trust at Wells Fargo, one of the most important pieces of advice she has ever received was on the value of staying true to herself.

“Be yourself – it’s important for all of us. The more you can be authentic at work, the more you can use that energy to make a difference,” she explained. And after thirty years in the business, she has the experience to know it’s true.

She explained, “I had a wonderful boss who gave me that advice and it’s really helped me over the years. It’s okay to be unique or a little quirky – don’t think there’s a particular style you have to follow. Just come in and be yourself.”

Career Path in Retirement

After majoring in social work at St. Olaf College, Nordquist graduated in the early ‘80s. “The employment situation at that time was a lot like it is today – really hard to find a job,” she recalled.

And with a liberal arts degree, it was twice as challenging, she explained, so she entered a management training program at an insurance company. “And it was actually a great entrée into the business world.”

Nordquist spent a few years in HR doing college recruiting, and then moved into the benefits and pension area. “And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since!” she explained, although the nature of the industry has changed over time. “We didn’t even have 401K plans when I started. It has been fun to watch the industry progress.”

In 1990, she joined Wells Fargo’s retirement business. She continued, “Today we work with employees on their retirement plans from all walks of life – from Millennials to someone nearing retirement. We work with such a diverse group of consumers, and what’s interesting to me is how we are working to reach them, and what they need in their saving cycle.”

She continued, “We used to just send the same message to everyone, but now we look at new technologies, market research, and even behavioral science to determine what people need. We look at all of the demographics and try to determine how they like to learn. We have the ability to tailor the experience.”

“Our goal is making it seem simple and seamless, and helping them look at their most financially secure retirement picture – it’s something we can all feel good about.”

Current events also have more of an impact on the retirement industry than most people realize, she continued. “Retirement is front and center in the tax reform and fiscal cliff debate,” she said. “We want to make sure elected officials make good decisions on how retirement savings are taxed – that we won’t regret ten or twenty years from now.”

She added, “We are in a savings crisis right now, and we want to make sure any new laws enhance our ability to save for retirement. It’s very interesting to watch, and we all have to be thinking about it.”

Advice for Women in Retirement

“Our field has been very open to women, and I think it’s a great model of a business that has opened its doors to a lot of diversity,” Nordquist said. “There is a segment of the investment piece that has been mostly male dominated, but I think we are making progress there too.”

She enjoys coaching her colleagues and sharing her experience and wisdom. She said, “It may sound corny, but really what I’m most proud of in my career is watching the team members I’ve worked with and where they go. I’ve said many times that I wouldn’t mind some of them becoming my boss someday!”

She added, “That’s what I’m most proud of – my team members’ development.”

“There are so many opportunities here,” she continued. “It’s a great industry to be entering. Just keep an open mind about all of the areas you can go into – technology, sales, market research. There are so many different disciplines.”

She also encouraged young people to look into professional designations that can help advance their career. “They can help you understand the technical nature of the business.”

Nordquist says one of the important lessons she has learned in her career is the importance of seeking help when you need it. “Just ask – be more open to ask for help rather than trying to figure it out by yourself. I think the workplace has gotten better about facilitating that, but I recall times in my career when I would have been better served by just asking someone when I was uncertain. Just ask.”

She said there are a lot of training and leadership opportunities for women at Wells Fargo, and she was particularly enthusiastic about the company’s Women’s Leadership Network. “It’s a great way to cross business lines and meet women who are successful and energetic. It’s a fabulous model and one that I’m proud of from an organizational standpoint.” In addition, Wells Fargo provides retirement and financial guidance designed specifically for women. One way they do that is through the “Beyond Today” website, where Nordquist blogs on a regular basis.

In Her Personal Time

Nordquist is married with three kids. “I think they give me a really balanced perspective at work,” she said. She also enjoys taking part in her community. “Wells Fargo is fabulous about encouraging us all to be involved. I’m fortunate to serve on the Greater Twin Cities United Way Board. It’s a great way to connect with other business leaders and the community.”

She added, “I always learn something new.”