Large financial institutions have a long-standing reputation for being greedy corporations, amassing huge profits at the expense of the consumers they supposedly serve. And, fair or not, once you’ve earned that reputation, it’s a difficult one to shake. One big bank is currently finding that out the hard way. According to the New York Times, Wells Fargo is having a tough time changing its corporate culture and earning people’s trust after a series of scandals a few years ago.
The bank has been apologizing since 2016 for using a number of deceptive tactics to squeeze extra money out of their customers. These tactics—including fake bank accounts, unwarranted fees, and unwanted products—are in Wells Fargo’s rear-view mirror, but it’s unclear whether the company has really reformed itself and become a more honest, customer-facing organization. Wells Fargo workers have told the Times that they still remain under heavy pressure to milk customers for every last dollar, which is a charge management has denied.
“For us front-line workers, there’s an overwhelming sense of frustration,” said Mark Willie, who works for Wells Fargo in Des Moines. “There is a general fear of retaliation for speaking out.”
“Our entire system of how we pay, coach, and develop team members is designed to focus on customer experience and customer outcomes,” countered Mary Mack, the bank’s head of consumer banking. “Things have changed a lot.”
This debate has been going on for a while. Wells Fargo was regarded as one of America’s best banks for a long time, but when unfavorable news stories about the bank’s tactics started coming out in 2016, there was major upheaval. Wells Fargo’s chief executive was pushed out, and the bank has been forced to pay over $1.5 billion in penalties to federal and state authorities, plus $620 million in settlements to shareholders and customers. Ever since then, people have been asking the question, “can Wells Fargo really change? Is the big bank capable of big reform, or is the company just structurally flawed?”
Wells Fargo brass insist that the bank has really gotten better, but on the front lines, employees are still uneasy. Alex Ross, who works for Wells Fargo in Minneapolis, told the Times that pressure on employees to squeeze their customers is still a major problem, and that many employees are uncomfortable speaking frankly with their managers about it. Fundamentally, he argued, Wells Fargo hasn’t really changed.
“There’s a sense among the workers that most of the reforms the bank has made are very superficial and only being done for PR reasons,” Ross said.
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