aside UPDATE: How Wells Fargo’s Toxic Culture Abused Employees. Part III

bank-j-s-slogan-use-downloadUPDATE:  A 10/4/16 NPR report, “Former Wells Fargo Employees Describe Toxic Sales Culture, Even At HQ,” by Chris Arnold paints the picture of how the Wells Fargo culture affected the front line employees, dating back to 2004. Here are some excerpts::

“Wells Fargo’s embattled CEO John Stumpf has been spending hours defending himself in congressional hearings (September 2016) trying to explain the scandal engulfing at his bank.”

“Wrongful sales practice behavior,” Stumpf told the Senate banking committee, “goes against everything regarding our core principals, our ethics and our culture.”(He retired Oct. 2016.)

bank-good-meme-one-employee-misbehaving-is-a-rogue-5-300-employees-misbehaving-is-3974699“But former Wells Fargo employees have been watching that testimony — and the ones we spoke to say, in no uncertain terms, they aren’t buying it.”

“Bulls***,” says one former employee who we’ll call Worker #1. She doesn’t want to use her name for fear that talking to NPR will prevent her from getting a job at another bank.”

“That’s the whole foundation of Wells Fargo is cross-sell, cross-sell, cross sell,” she says, referring to the bank’s sales approach of offering customers with, for example, a checking account many other types of products too — credit cards, home loans, lines of credit, etc. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that in principle. But Worker #1 says in practice Wells Fargo pushed it beyond reason.”

bank-wf-emp-slogan-use-maxresdefault“And the sales culture was so intense she says that some workers even in the headquarters and other San Francisco branches resorted to deceptive practices to make their sales goals. “That completely contradicts what he’s saying.”

“This employee is upset about what the bank did and how she was treated. Standing on the street last week looking up at the corporate headquarters building, she remembers back in 2007, showing up for her first day of work at the branch here.”

“She says the number of products she was expected to sell — checking and savings accounts, credit cards — seemed really high: at least eight products a day.  During a sales push called “Jump into January” former employees say they were expected to sell 20 products a day. That just seemed impossible to Worker #1, and she says the pressure on her and her co-workers to sell was disturbingly intense. “We were all miserable, and it was just soul crushing to walk in every day.”

bank-wmp-photo-welcome-to-wf-img_5529“Erik, who also worked at the headquarters branch and only wants to use his first name, describes the sales pressure this way: “It was every day, man. It was literally every day. It was a grind-house.”

Erik says mornings started with a huddle where managers pressed workers to meet their “solutions goals.” Each credit card or home equity loan or other product was called a solution. And all day long workers were told to sell solutions, sell solutions.

“It was multiple occasions where I saw my co-workers were cracking under the pressure,” Erik says. “Tears, crying, constantly getting pulled into the back room having one-on-ones for coaching sessions.” Erik says, “You know, there was a lot of coaching happening,” and he winks. Erik is a big strong looking guy. He played sports all through college. He says this wasn’t really “coaching.” Managers called it that, but it was just leaning on employees to sell more solutions.”

bank-wells-fargo-emp-img1639-750xx2200-1240-0-130“Erik says if you didn’t meet your sales goals, that’s when employees would have to have these so-called coaching sessions.”

“Employee #1 remembers two managers approach her desk, reprimand her, and march her past her colleagues.”

“It’s like being called into the principal’s office,” she says. “Sit down at the large conference table, no windows in this room, they shut the door, lock the door.” Then she says managers would give her a “formal warning” and tell her to sign it. And she says they’d tell her, “If you don’t meet your solutions you’re not a team player. If you’re bringing down the team then you will be fired and it will be on your permanent record.” She said she was in her early 20s, like many of the lower level sales people in the office. She says she was afraid to lose her job, especially when the economy was still in bad shape. “You were stuck.”

bank-wf-emp-photo-chicagoimages“Employee #1 says after one of these coaching sessions she threw up in the wastebasket under her desk. Erik compared the job to being in an abusive relationship.”

“The sales culture at Wells Fargo helped the bank’s bottom line. Wells Fargo expanded the number of products it sold to millions of customers and from 2006 to 2015 the banks stock rose 67 percent. It has since fallen, after news of the banking scandal broke.”

“NPR spoke with former employees who worked at Wells Fargo in San Francisco between the years 2004 and 2011. And they all said a pressure-cooker sales environment at the bank pushed some of their co-workers to deceive customers.”

“Erik says no managers directly told him to do anything deceptive with customers. He says they’d ask him: “Where are you at?’ What you got going? How are you gonna get there?” And then repeat, “How are you gonna get there?” And Erik says as long as you hit your numbers nobody asked any questions.”

bank-img_wells_call-center-98“Pat, who also just wants to use his first name, remembers one co-worker issuing lines of credit for customers who never applied for them. “There was this banker who — he had this unbelievable loan volume and I was thinking, is he that good of a sales person?”

“But Pat says he figured out what was happening after customers started showing up at the branch to complain. They had applied for a home equity loan. That was OK.”

“But then they also have a personal line of credit for like $20,000 that they didn’t ask for. So then I realized how he was doing all his loans, because he was tagging on other loan products in the same application so they wouldn’t really notice when they signed the documents.”

bank-wf-side-view-hdqtr20160927-wells-fargo-sf-0149edit_custom-d44a06a263095a642c9a4a6dbb1eac1374eb0a6d-s800-c85“As far as what happened to Erik — the big athletic former Wells Fargo banker said after working for the bank for a little more than a year he was having physical reactions to the amount of stress he was under, “upset stomach, nerves, eye-twitching.” So his quit his job. “It just got to a point where it was like, I just can’t handle this man.”

“Worker #1 says eventually she pushed back and refused to meet the sales goals because, she told her managers, there was no ethical way to do it. She says she called the bank’s ethics hotline about that multiple times. She was fired by Wells Fargo in 2011.”

“NPR spoke with former employees who worked at Wells Fargo between 2004 and 2011. They said deceptive practices were widespread. Accounts were being opened without customers’ knowledge. And they said managers knew.”

“These workers were in the branch on the first floor of the headquarters building where the CEO and the senior management worked.”

3 comments

  1. Gronda, I was speaking with a former Wachovian who now employs several former Wells Fargo folks. She said some branch managers would steal data from another branch and set up new accounts. That is very unfortunate and indicting if true. Keith

    • Dear Keith,

      Unfortunately, I am not surprised. The culture allowed for this. The people who got ahead cheated, and the honest decent star had to compete with cheaters. Usually the ones that don’t go along to get along are pushed out.

      The Wells Fargo culture was definitely dysfunctional and sick. This is why I am concerned about the new CEO Tim Sloan possibly being a clone of Mr. Stumpf.

      Mr. Stumpf retired at an opportune time. Too many hands are digging into this story to where the story is going to get a lot worse.

      Ciao, Gronda

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