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No One Had A Working Moral Compass At Wells Fargo?

September 17, 2016

Perhaps the most interesting story this past week was the news about Wells Fargo and their stunning attempt to get sales up at any cost.  The result was the tarnishing of their reputation in the banking community and the rightful news of the firing of thousands of employees.

What I am most interested in is how does the internal culture of an organization become so craven and corrupt?  At what point do people jettison reason, morals, and common sense and lunge for the greed?  Is it so incremental that it does not seem to be different from what came before and once it has mushroomed it seems only natural?

Human nature always needs to be kept in check or our base instincts will run amok.  But having said that I am quite sure a large percentage of my readers would not indulge in this behavior.  Even if one’s job were on the line I suspect many of my readers would take the high road and not only leave but also blow the whistle.

Many years ago I worked at a non-profit where highly illegal activity was taking place.  I journaled it all and brought the matter to the board.  The board decided to not take the correct path and refused to fire the person who was at the center of the storm.  I resigned within minutes of that meeting and the next morning was in the office of the United Way, the top funder for the organization.  Within days the funding was ended.   The non-profit no longer exists.

I mention that story to make it clear that I am not just spouting empty words about being serious concerning how we do our  jobs and what role we can play to bring about positive change.   I am totally flummoxed how no one early on in this banking crisis did not stand up and alert others that everyone’s moral compass needed tuning.

“If you could sell, you had a job,” says Scott Trainor, who worked at Wells Fargo in several different jobs until he quit in 2014. He says he was fed up with sales pressure and unethical practices. Managers suggested to employees that they hunt for sales prospects at bus stops and retirement homes, according to Mr. Trainor and other former Wells Fargo employees.

Questionable sales tactics persisted, though, and were an open secret in Wells Fargo branches across the country, according to interviews with more than three dozen current and former area presidents, district managers, branch managers and other bank employees.

They say many branch managers routinely monitored employees’ progress toward meeting sales goals, sometimes hourly, and sales numbers at the branch level were reported to higher-ranking managers as many as seven times a day. Tension about how to meet the sales targets was common. 

“If somebody said: ‘This doesn’t make sense. Where are you getting these sales goals?’ then [the response] was: ‘No, you can do it’ or ‘You’re negative’ or ‘Oh, you’re not a team player,’” says Ruth Landaverde, a former Wells Fargo credit manager in Palmdale, Calif.

She says she often got the same response whenever she said a customer didn’t need another credit card. “The answer was: ‘Yes, they do,’” she says. She quit after being warned she wasn’t reaching her sales goals, she says.

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