Alum Alexus Russell flourishes at Wells Fargo and hopes to help small businesses thrive

by | Sep 18, 2023

Russell earned her degree in accounting at UMSL and for nearly two years has worked as a senior financial controls and oversight analyst.
Black woman wearing brown top stands in front of an UMSL logo background.

Alexus Russell, an UMSL graduate, is a finance professional who wants to help small businesses thrive. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

Alexus Russell grew up with parents who ran their own businesses. She witnessed how challenging it was to keep them afloat, particularly when it came to balancing the finances. She began helping out with the books and developed an aspiration to turn her burgeoning skills into a career.

Her practical experience, coupled with the knowledge she gained earning a degree in accounting from the College of Business Administration at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, primed Russell for her career in finance and current role as a senior financial controls and oversight analyst at Wells Fargo where she’s been for nearly two years.

Russell is part of a team that ensures her company has and maintains financial and internal controls as mandated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“My day-to-day responsibilities include internal control scoping, assessment and review,” she said. “As a senior analyst I also spend plenty of time coaching and training other analysts, as well as reviewing their controls documentation. I interpret and apply various internal and external policies for our functional group testing and documentation.”

Russell’s interest in accounting and business began when she was in grade school, having observed other business owners struggle with finances.

“A lot of people weren’t the best at managing business finances and understanding money – what to do with it and how to assess it,” Russell said. “So I’d say probably around 10 or 11, I was like, ‘Yeah, these people need help with their money. I’m going to do their accounting for them. And that’s kind of where it bloomed.”

Later, while a junior at McCluer South-Berkeley High School, Russell decided she wanted an even more rigorous curriculum. She went to then-superintendent Art McCoy – an UMSL graduate – who told her about dual enrollment courses at the university. At the time, the district didn’t have some of the advanced courses she wanted, so the dual enrollment option seemed like a great idea that would help her reach her academic goals.

“From that, I graduated and got a full ride to the Pierre Laclede Honors College,” Russell said.

But Russell wanted to experience life outside St. Louis and instead enrolled at Regis University in Denver to study business.

“I was born and raised here,” Russell said. “So it wasn’t my dream to go to the college down the street from where I just went to high school and grew up. I wanted to get away.”

But after two years, she decided that St. Louis was actually where she wanted to be. Russell moved back home and enrolled in the College of Business Administration at UMSL, which turned out to be more to her liking than Regis. She distinctly remembers when one of her professors took an unorthodox approach to teaching and canceled class and homework if the students went to an accounting workshop. Russell went, and her view of accounting and those in the profession was transformed.

Instead of a stereotypical boring and tightly wound group, Russell connected with warm and friendly professionals and met an auditor for the first time. From that experience, she began attending accounting networking events and made contacts. One was a recruiter from KPMG, one of the largest accounting firms in the country.

In her senior year, she secured an opportunity with the firm as an audit intern. After graduating from UMSL, she was hired at KPMG as an associate. After nearly two years, she was promoted to a senior audit associate.

Russell pursued and met her goal of becoming an accounting and finance professional. Though her path could be considered complicated, she believes it worked out for the best.

“The path was tumultuous at best,” Russell said, “but I think it was a good path in life because I was a student who felt as though everything was linear – step A, step B, step C – and had I gone to UMSL in the beginning, I think that I would have never gotten into the mindset of just being agile and knowing how to go with the flow. I was very, very rigid.”

Looking ahead at what would be her second act, Russell is very interested in community building. One of her goals is to have her own nonprofit that helps small businesses maintain financial viability.

“I saw people that were my age are coming up, wanting to have businesses, but their businesses always failed in the first two to three years because they didn’t know what to do with their money,” she said. “They didn’t have any idea about their accounting. I want to teach these people how to do this so that they can have sustainable small businesses.”

Though her passion for being of service is strong, that vision may be far down the line. Observing what her parents have gone through running their own businesses and how grueling it can be, she’s in no rush to forgo the stability of corporate work.

“Watching their entrepreneurship journey showed me, ‘I don’t want to do that,’” she said. “It’s hard. It’s a constant grind. If it’s on fire, they have to handle it. I don’t want to live my life like that. As an entrepreneur, even if you don’t want to, it’s kind of not really a choice because if you don’t handle the problem, you’re going to come back and it’s usually going to be a bigger problem.”

Until she’s ready, Russell satisfies her ambition to help others by volunteering her time with small businesses answering basic accounting inquiries, directing owners to colleagues and other resources. Her time at UMSL not only gave her the tools but also aided in strengthening her perspective on the significance of that work.

“I don’t like when the small people get stepped on,” Russell said, “when honestly, the small people are the people who keep the country running.”

Wendy Todd

Wendy Todd