The Sept. 9 Star Tribune included a story (“Wells Fargo to be fined $185 million”) that addressed a record-setting penalty levied against that bank for creating well more than a million new customer banking accounts without those customers’ permission. Additionally, Wells Fargo employees were found to have created more than half a million unsolicited credit-card accounts without the account holders’ knowledge.
The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which levied the fine, found that the practice of artificially ginning up sales figures had been going on throughout the Wells Fargo banking system since 2011 — that is, five full years. While most of these unauthorized accounts reportedly ended up generating no fees for the banking giant, 85,000 of them resulted in $2 million in fees paid by unwitting customers.
As stunning as this announcement was, there was another fact I found even more jaw-dropping, and one that the published article somehow failed to include: The CFPB report states that Wells Fargo has fired 5,300 employees for participating in this practice.
Five thousand three hundred.
Let’s allow that to sink in for a moment. We perhaps would be not so shocked to learn that a handful of employees schemed to create fake accounts to boost their own sales figures or earn bonuses. An under-the-counter conspiracy of some sort among a small, select group? Sure. Ho-hum. Just financial shenanigans as usual.
But 5,300 employees? Over a five-year period? The breadth of the deception is utterly astonishing.
It is inconceivable that a practice so widespread took place without the knowledge and complicity of Wells Fargo managers. And if it did take place without raising a single department head’s eyebrow, one has to wonder what else escaped management’s watchful gaze during that same five-year period.
This leads me to wonder: How many of these 5,300 fired employees were customer service “grunts,” and how many were their managers? And if every manager up and down the Wells Fargo chain who had knowledge of this practice or failed to observe this massive pattern of deceit was not cashiered, then why not? Why should I or anyone else feel comfortable doing business with this company? A bank is supposed to be more than a locked vault where cash is kept. Laugh if you will, but a bank is also supposed to be about trust.
Answering my own question: Hearing this news, I don’t trust this bank and I don’t know why anyone else would, either. That the bank employees may have felt driven to these ultimately expensive shortcuts by unrealistic sales goals set by management is, to me, really beside the point.
For my part, strictly for household convenience, I have been trying to coax my spouse into transferring her Wells Fargo accounts to another Twin Cities banking institution. This revelation of systemwide banking impropriety was the last push she needed. It will be inconvenient to transfer her direct-deposit agreements and accounts to another bank, but the payoff will be not experiencing that feeling of misplaced trust — and the hovering word “chump” — each time an envelope with the Wells Fargo logo shows up in our mailbox.
Ron Thums, of Minneapolis, is a retired print production manager. He is a 20-year volunteer at KFAI, a community radio station.