Wells Fargo Employees Say Threat Of Being Fired Leads To Bad Behavior

A few months back, we told you about the 30 Los Angeles-area Wells Fargo employees who became former Wells Fargo employees when it was discovered they were opening bogus accounts to meet the bank’s demanding sales goals. According to a new investigative report on the megabank, Wells workers around the country are feeling pressured into behaving unethically just to avoid being fired.

“We were constantly told we would end up working for McDonald’s,” one former branch manager from Florida tells the L.A. Times. “If we did not make the sales quotas … we had to stay for what felt like after-school detention, or report to a call session on Saturdays.”

She says she resigned in 2010 rather than deal with the required hourly sales updates from regional managers, and the dangling threat of termination for those employees who failed to meet quotas.

Wells Fargo averages more than 6 financial products per household — several times the national average — but even that isn’t enough, with bank brass reportedly urging employees to shoot for the “Great 8,” meaning that each household would have bank accounts, credit cards, loans, and just about anything else you could get from a Wells Fargo branch.

To some, that pressure and the dread of losing their jobs led them to make bad, and sometimes illegal decisions. In addition to opening up duplicate accounts, one of the 30 Wells employees dismissed in October tells the Times that people at the bank used a company database to identify customers to pre-order credit cards for customers who had been pre-approved.

“They’d just tell the customers: ‘You’re getting a credit card,'” explains the former employee, who said that when customers would complain about the unasked-for cards, a manager would just chalk it up to a computer glitch.

Another former branch manager tells the Times she learned that some of her employees had talked a homeless woman into opening six different accounts, all just to meet quotas, when the woman only needed a single account in order to get her Social Security benefits direct-deposited.

“It’s all manipulation. We are taught exactly how to sell multiple accounts,” says the former manager, who helped the customer close all her unnecessary accounts. “It sounds good, but in reality it doesn’t benefit most customers.”

About the pressure from Wells HQ, she adds, “If you do not make your goal, you are severely chastised and embarrassed in front of 60-plus managers in your area by the community banking president.”

For its part, Wells maintains that it does have a focus on selling products to customers but disagrees with the notion of a boiler-room sales culture.

“This is something we take very seriously,” a rep for the bank tells the Times. “When we find lapses, we do something about it, including firing people.”

He also points out that most employees receive relatively little of their pay from bonuses, with only around 3% of tellers’ annual pay tied to sales goals.

But that may be a short-sighted viewpoint, as it assumes that these bad employees are behaving unethically out of greed.

If I work at a store and my boss tells me I need to sell $500 worth of widgets each day or I’m fired, it makes no difference to me whether I earn commission on those widgets. By telling an employee that his or her job is on the line, a boss is letting it be known that 100% of that employee’s wages are on the line, not just the small percentage tied to sales goals.