We all know the story: For years, competitive pressures from above spurred Wells Fargo bankers to open millions of unauthorized accounts in the names of unwitting customers. Since the scandal broke, it’s become clear that while some managers encouraged phony accounts in order to lift their own profiles, many low-level employees paid the price for refusing to comply.
Now it seems that a different sort of competition is underway amongst the bank’s regional bankers: a race to repent.
Every few weeks now, another Wells Fargo employee leaks a document to the press outlining just how badly the bank sinned. Last month, Vice News (of all places) got its hands on a 2006 letter from a Wells Fargo veteran in Washington outlining how area managers were “gaming” accounts, apparently with the full knowledge of higher-ups.
Soon afterward, the New York Times followed up with a story citing letters going all the way back to 2005 from Northern California employees blowing the whistle on bogus account openings.
The latest entry in the atonement Olympics comes courtesy an unnamed Arizona employee, whose letter to upper management – shared with the Wall Street Journal – describes how the Grand Canyon state became a breeding ground for questionable sales practices.
The Arizona area once ranked last in terms of sales among roughly 35 national Wells Fargo regions. The state climbed in about two years around the start of this decade to No. 1 through the use of what current and former employees say were aggressive sales goals and questionable training programs pushed by regional managers who were related or close friends, according to the letter and current managers.
The top rank became a source of pride for managers in Arizona. “The satisfaction of being ‘#1, second to no one,’ has [evolved] into an addiction,” according to the letter.
The Arizona managers were later recruited to other parts of the country where their tactics proliferated, according to the employee letter. That “enabled the culture to spread through the nation like cancer,” it added.
Other juicy details: Regional bank managers set up special events at Arizona State University to lure students into checking accounts, promising iPods and other goodies to frat boys and sorority girls who “opened a minimum of six banking products,” according to the letter. That's a lot of financial planning for nineteen-year-olds whose chief expenses consist of Natty Light and black-market Adderall.
This won’t be the end of the conscience-cleansing letters. For the employees who suffered lost bonuses or even termination for refusing to open sham accounts, leaking letters provides a fine outlet for justified grievance. The financial press, meanwhile, remains happy to publish the missives and twist the knife on Wells Fargo. (On that note: email@example.com.)
The only mystery is why the CFPB, which limited its purview to 2011 and after, didn’t scrounge up any of these letters.