During September of 2016, the LA Times broke the story about Wells Fargo’s being fined by state government regulators for its practice of creating millions of bogus accounts by employees under extreme pressure to meet unrealistic sales goals, without the customers’ knowledge and/ or without their approval. In some cases, clients signatures were forged.
Originally, the LA Times published a series of investigative posts about Well Fargo’s high-pressure sales tactics during the month of December 2013, which reflected the bank’s internal chaos and employees faking customer accounts to meet mission impossible sales goals. After the 2013 LA Times Wells Fargo expose, regulators from the State of California and the city of Los Angeles opened inquiries into its practices.
Eventually, around September, 2016 Wells Fargo’s executives were forced to reach agreements with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Los Angeles attorney office over allegations that it, among other improper activities, opened deposit accounts and transferred funds without customers’ consent. The bank had to pay a total of $185 million in fines, plus another $5 million for “customer remediation.”
The fall out from Wells Fargo’s fraudulent activities has incurred lots of media attention. Now the NY Times is focusing on the harm done to the employees having to work in this dysfunctional work culture. My own research indicates that the frontline agents at the numerous call centers and the bank branches were required to cross sell on each and every contact with clients and to meet a sales goal of 6 to 8 accounts per person. This Wells Fargo’s expectation for their agents dates back to at least 2005.
The following are some excerpts from the 10/20/16 NY Times article, “Voices From Wells Fargo: ‘I Thought I Was Having a Heart Attack,’ by Stacey Cowley (Two stories):
Angie Payden, banker in Hudson, Wis., 2011 to 2014:
“Actions that I was forced to do as a banker included:”
1). “Opening travel checking accounts for customers by convincing them that it was unsafe to travel without a separate checking account and debit card;”
2). “Coercing customers to open credit card accounts to use as overdraft protection for their checking accounts when they were already struggling to keep their checking accounts balanced;3). Witnessing other bankers and being pressured by management to add credit defense onto new credit applications without the customer’s knowledge, which led to unnecessary monthly fees;”
3). “Witnessing other bankers and being pressured by management to add credit defense onto new credit applications without the customer’s knowledge, which led to unnecessary monthly fees;”
4). “Closing and opening new accounts for customers by convincing them that had been fraud on their existing accounts.”
“I started to have extreme physical stress-related symptoms as well as random panic attacks. At some point during that summer, the stress was so intense that I could no longer handle the pressure.”
“On the banker’s desk, in the bathroom, behind the teller line and in the vault, the store kept bottles of hand sanitizer. One morning, before meeting with a customer, in which I knew I was going to have to sell unneeded services, I had a severe panic attack. I went to the bathroom and took a drink of some hand sanitizer. This immediately reduced my anxiety.”
“From that point, I began drinking the hand sanitizer all over the bank. In late November 2012, I was completely addicted to hand sanitizer and drinking at least a bottle a day during my workday. In December, I was confronted by management about my behavior. I decided to seek treatment and went on leave.”
Scott T., teller and sales/service representative in Galesburg, Ill., 2009
“I started as a teller because it was the only available position, and I figured it would give me an edge when a banker position opened up. As a teller, you had to sell products and make referrals. Every day, your supervisor would make you set a sales goal, follow up on reaching that sales goal and coach you on how to make those sales.”
“A banker position opened up, and I applied. My district manager told me my sales numbers as a teller didn’t justify becoming a personal banker, but she could make me a customer sales and service representative, which was basically a personal banker with slightly smaller sales goals and an obviously smaller hourly rate. I accepted the position because it paid more than being a teller.I believe my daily product sales goal was six a day. It didn’t matter if you had 20 products one day, you still had to meet your goal every other day.”
” A seasoned banker taught me to put fake appointments on your calendar, and then have them “cancel and rebook” for another day.I was once scolded for not selling an elderly lady a credit card by telling her that she could use it as a form of ID if she went to a teller who didn’t know her.”
” Even if a customer didn’t want access to online banking, we were taught to force them into it. If they didn’t have an email to use for online banking, make one up. Once they logged into online banking for the first time, you made a sale.”
“There were numerous days where I would hide in the men’s bathroom crying. It got so bad that one day I left work to go to the emergency room because I thought I was having a heart attack. It turns out it was an anxiety attack. I thought I was going to have a heart attack or stroke if I stayed any longer.“Even though I was reaching my sales goals, it was not enough.”