On Tuesday morning, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf will face the Senate Banking Committee to answer questions about how the bank’s high-pressure sales goals led a number of employees to fraudulently open up millions of unauthorized accounts. In advance of that hearing, a group of former Wells employees shared their insider views on this scandal.
Wells Fargo’s efforts to encourage cross-selling of products — convince a mortgage customer to get a credit card; a credit card customer to get a savings account — have been well documented in lawsuits and a $185 million enforcement action against the bank, few employees have shone a light on their time with the company.
On a conference call sponsored by the Committee for Better Banks, two former Wells Fargo employees spoke about their personal experiences with sales goals they characterized as aggressive and often unreasonable — and the bogus accounts they claim that managers knew about but ignored. Here are a few things the employees revealed about their time with the bank.
Here are four things we learned about the pressure of Wells Fargo’s sales goals and the consequences employees faced for not meeting quotas.
1. The Great Eight
“I was told by executives to tell my bankers to ‘sell, sell, sell,’” Julie Miller, a former branch manager for a Wells Fargo in Allentown, PA, says.
Miller worked at the bank for several years, working her way from a teller with Wachovia to a manager after Wells Fargo bought the rival bank.
Employees at Miller’s bank were instructed to sell each customer eight different products, including checking accounts, overdraft protection services, savings accounts, credit cards, and other often unneeded products.
“These executives designed a system and created a system of harassment and pressure,” she says, noting that each year she worked for the bank she was instructed to increase sales by 35%.
“Because I was in a smaller city, the customer base was finite,” she says. “So where are these increases supposed to come from? From our current customers.”
Khalid Taha worked as a personal banker for Wells Fargo in San Diego from 2013 to 2016. He recounts almost immediately feeling the pressure to sell two to three products to customers each day.
“The unreasonable sales codes at Wells Fargo took a huge toll on me,” he says.
2. Tough Consequences
Taha says the pressure to meet sales goals was amplified by the consequences of not fulfilling the quotas.
“I had to meet quotas every day, if I didn’t then I could be written up and fired,” he says. “This meant that I was forced to focus on sales rather than meeting customer needs.”
While Taha wasn’t fired for performance, Miller says that when she began working at a new branch in Allentown, she was immediately told to fire four of her 18 employees for performance.
“These were long-term bankers,” she said. “they were great at customer service and knew the rules, but they weren’t increasing numbers and I was told to fire them.”
After firing one of the employees after working with her for three months to increase sales, Miller says she refused to do the same with others.
“The repercussions from customers was so hard, they loved her,” Miller recalls.
In other cases, Miller was told she had to write up employees who didn’t meet goals. If she didn’t follow through, Wells Fargo would “come down hard” on her.
“I was told to work them like dogs and if I could get them to I needed to work on Saturday,” she said.
3. Opening Accounts
In order to avoid being written up and potentially losing their jobs, Miller says she found that bankers would engage in several unsavory practices.
When a customer came in, if they had a checking account, employees were told to emphasize the other products, like credit cards or loans.
“I knew one banker that signed customers up for online banking all of the time without their knowledge,” Miller recalls.
This was done, she says, by using the customer’s information and simply creating a user name or account. In some cases, if an email address was unknown, the banker would simply set one up.
“I had customers come in with credit cards and throw them on my desk,” she said. “They would say ‘I don’t want this, I never signed up for this.’”
Another tactic allegedly used to meet sales goals was to cancel accounts and then reopen them.
4. The Ethics
Miller believes that some employees were reporting the bogus accounts, not out of any ethical obligation, but because they were trying to curb inflation of sales goals. If it required deception to meet this month’s goal, what’s it going to take when the bank inevitably raises that goal?
As for the district managers, Miller claims “They knew about” the fake accounts, “but they looked the other way.” She says one district manager admitted to her that branches in another area were meeting these goals by opening bogus accounts.
Taha says he tried to alert the Wells Fargo ethics line about bad behavior at his San Diego branch, but nothing happened.
Was this helpful? We’re a non-profit! You can get more stories like this in our twice weekly ad-free newsletter! Click here to sign up.