Times investigation of Wells Fargo culture provokes strong reaction

A Times investigation into the intense sales culture at Wells Fargo Bank, published in Sunday's newspaper, has drawn strong reaction from the bank's customers and employees. Many related experiences similar to those described in the story.

The Times reported that rigid daily quotas caused many employees to unethically inflate sales — often by pushing unnecessary accounts or services, at times without customer permission.

Some staffers begged family members to open ghost accounts; others ordered credit cards that customers never requested, or forged signatures on account paperwork. Phone numbers of angry customers were falsified in bank files so they couldn't be reached for customer satisfaction surveys.

Times investigation: Wells Fargo pressure-cooker sales culture comes at a cost

These findings emerged from interviews with about three dozen former and current Wells staffers, along with a review of internal bank documents and lawsuits filed against the bank.

Wells Fargo officials said they make ethical conduct a priority, have systems to root out wrongdoing, and punish or fire employees who violate the law or the bank's code of conduct. They said the selling is intended to benefit customers by identifying and addressing their financial needs.

Many others reached out after reading the story, including more than 50 former employees, 21 current employees and 19 customers. Here's a sampling of their reactions.

Former Wells Fargo staffers

I left my position as team lead in the San Antonio call center last July because I too was fed up with the pressure to "perform," the shadiness of branches, the lack of integrity, and management's failure for accountability. One time I closed 26 debit cards for a customer who only wanted one. He wanted to know why the branch employees had sent him card after card. As was customary, I blamed it on a system error. Reporting infractions to the executive office was as useless as reporting to branch managers or district managers.They all covered each other up and fabricated excuse after excuse. In my last few months there, I'd go to work with my stomach tied in knots. I began having frequent chest pains, severe anxiety, and my blood pressure skyrocketed.

Mary-Louise Abney, Mico, Texas


I left Wells Fargo in October 2010 for the same reason and without another job lined up. The places they would send us to get accounts were just insane. One place we were sent was to blood banks, where people would donate blood cells for money -- individuals who were struggling for money. I saw a lot of people come and go as they were caught doing unethical things just to meet their numbers. The environment turned from having experienced and knowledgeable bankers to kids straight out of high school.

Raul Antonio Ramirez, Denver


Sales positions, by their very nature, are always pressure-cooker positions. Some people like this kind of work, and many more can't stand it. It seems that many of the respondents to this article as well as those interviewed were those who didn't like the sales culture. Cross selling is not a bad thing. Dishonest portrayal of products or of their real cost was always a fireable offense in my 30 years [with Wells Fargo Financial and predecessor firms], which ended 10 years ago. There seems to be some jealousy of success going on here. Couldn't you have found some employees or customers that actually liked [Wells Fargo]? It wasn't a very balanced article.

Peter Fremstad, Pigeon Falls, Wis.


Hats off to the employees who had the courage to come forward and speak out.I too was a Wells Fargo manager, for just over two years. It was the most miserable “professional” experience I’ve ever had.The work environment was hostile, the chastising never stopped, and finally one Friday before Memorial Day I set my keys on the desk and walked out.I had a mortgage, car payment and I’m single, but I simply had to take the chance. I was very fortunate to find work at another fantastic financial institution ... and I’ve been with them for 10 years.

Leigha Woodall, San Diego


On Dec. 17, when I visited Wells Fargo’s Signal Hill branch for a wire transfer, the teller referred me to a banker, who asked if I had filled out an application for a credit card, to which I replied no. She asked if I would like to, to which I replied no. She explained the 5% rebate which comes with the card, to which I replied that I was not interested as my wife and I have enough credit cards. She said I could apply and receive the card but did not have to use it as it would cost nothing. I reiterated I was not interested. She asked for my mother's maiden name, which I assumed was part of the identification process for the wire transfer, then sent me back to the teller to complete the transaction. The next morning I received a telephone call that my credit card application was approved! ... Countless calls to various Wells Fargo departments failed to stop the application process. It was then I contacted the Wells Fargo fraudulent claims department and filed a claim. I am in the process of closing out my Wells checking, savings and stock portfolio.

Michael B. McNulty, Long Beach


Interesting article.A similar experience happened to me as a customer this past summer.I went into a Wells in Northern New Jersey and they pressured me into opening up a relationship account. I said I wasn't interested about five times but they kept saying "hold on" and brought over a manager.The manager said he would waive the fees for a year and there was no reason not to open the account. I finally gave in, opened the account and canceled the account over the phone when I got home. Definitely good to bring light on their hard selling tactics.

Scott Mosberg, Hoboken, N.J.


An employee told me he was going to clean up my checking account. Without asking me, he closed it and opened another one, with new checks that I did not otherwise need. They on another occasion moved money from one account to another in some involuntary savings program, without my permission or initial knowledge. I eventually closed the accounts. Your article was cathartic.

Jeffrey Lustman, Los Angeles


My husband and I banked with Wells Fargo for many years. When he died several years ago I went to my local branch (Tarzana) to deposit his insurance check. Somehow I ended up with extra checking and savings accounts. I asked why and was given an answer that made no sense. My husband had been gone three months and I did not have the energy to pursue since there was no cost to me involved.

Anita Arkin, Tarzana


Thanks for your reporting. No wonder [Wells Fargo] opened a $50 check account in my name & signed me up for overdraft protection even though I never asked for it. This is like the old AOL who penalized their employees if customers canceled their accounts — so trying to quit was as hard as getting out of the mafia. I understand the business climate has become really cutthroat in this tightwad economy and have sympathy for the employees who were fired. They did wrong but were forced into it.

Theo Ching, Diamond Bar


I have been a Wells Fargo customer for years and I can attest to the pushy sales environment that exists there. There is a lot of employee turnover because of these sales quotas. Also, they are transferring people in and out of the branches way too much. This has taught me to use the one experienced personal banker they keep at that branch [in Santa Monica] for stability to handle my more involved banking needs. The national perspective in your article was great to confirm that this pattern and practice comes from the top. Good job.

Greg Wickstrom, Santa Monica


A few years ago, because of my parents’ failing health, I had to take over the management of their financial affairs including their banking. I am a CPA and have been CFO for both public and private companies for over 35 years. I was shocked to learn of the extra unneeded services, overdraft protection and credit cards that had been issued in their names. My parents owned a small plumbing business for over 45 years and had stellar credit; there was no need for overdraft [protection] or extra credit cards. After numerous phone calls with Wells Fargo’s customer service center, I was able to eliminate the wasteful and unneeded services, but that didn’t stop the cold calls from Wells Fargo personnel to my parents to initiate other unneeded services. I hope that the regulators ended up fining them as hard and as much as JP Morgan recently received for the London Whale trading scandal.

Jerry Pellizzon, San Juan Capistrano


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