Imagine an annoyingly clean-cut and boringly handsome business guy in a nice suit. Now picture him being forced to drive out to a family farm and apologize to the farmer and his family for having scammed them out of a lot of money.
Now visualize him slipping and falling in a big pile of wet pig shit on the way back to his car. Now envision him trying to stand up but slipping and falling again...over and over until he is entirely covered with pig shit. Just lying there defeated and filthy, unable to escape the fetid reality that he has created for himself.
That pig shit-covered guy in the suit is Wells Fargo.
It's that bad. The once prim and proper stagecoach is now a byword for predatory American banking behavior, and every attempt that the bank has made to appear contrite has backfired in ways ranging from the mundanely embarrassing to the spectacularly shameful. Getting back to within even shooting distance of likability is going to be an epic PR journey for Wells Fargo, and it will require a mix of hard work, strategic thinking and lots of luck to get there. Basically, Wells Fargo is going to need a miracle to un-screw itself.
But what if we told you that the bank's senior management might be overlooking a sterling opportunity to make a wildly bold gesture? And what if we doubled down by telling you that this opportunity comes gift-wrapped from the Trump Administration?
Hear us out.
There was something of a brouhaha a few weeks back when newly-installed White House budget director Mick Mulvaney innocently told a room full of reporters that his budget, which proposes massive cuts to government spending on social programs, is "compassionate to the taxpayer."
By taking a rusty hatchet to social benefit programs like after-school programs and Meals on Wheels, Mulvaney and his boss are doing something conservatives have dreamed of for years; taking concrete action on demolishing the welfare state. But even the most die-hard haters of government spending must have tugged at his collar when he heard Mulvaney say this into a live microphone inside the White House:
“Meals on Wheels sounds great,” Mulvaney said during the White House news briefing, adding that “we're not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”
Considering that Meals on Wheels delivers actual food to the actually infirmed, Mulvaney took some serious shit from the media and many Americans who saw it as totally unnecessary for a senior administration official to take a verbal shot at a charity best known for delivering hot dinners to old people.
What happened here was Mick Mulvaney feeling himself. Empowered by a chaotic White House to do and say all the things he has been dying to doand say since he was forced to watch Barack Obama take the oath of office. It was a moment of pure political ideology shorn of any politicking. It was refreshingly honest and it bit Mulvaney and his boss in the ass big time.
Suddenly, people were talking about Meals on Wheels. People who had never even really thought about it were now crusaders for getting the government to keep delivering lasagna to elderly shut-ins. By trying to burn it all down, Trump and his team had made Meals on Wheels a flashpoint in our never-ending American culture war.
So, here's where Wells Fargo comes in: If the federal government is going to turn off the tap for programs like Meals on Wheels, Wells Fargo should make an ostentatious show of "rescuing" a program like Meals on Wheels. And not just rescue it, Wells Fargo should own Meals on Wheels. It should take about $25 million from its operating budget and operate the damn thing in all 50 states.
"You Wall Street-hating, patchouli stinking Occupy hippies love Meals on Wheels? Well GUESS WHAT? We saved it! Wells Fargo RULES!"
Meals should be delivered by vans painted to look like red stagecoaches and disgraced Wells community bankers should be made to spend a few hours a week doing the deliveries. When people think of a genteel octogenarian being visited and fed by a gracious stranger, that stranger should be wearing a red and yellow polo shirt mumbling apologies for "cross-selling."
Wells CEO Tim Sloan should become the face of elderly Americans chewing soft food. Ferreal.
Sooner than later, Sloan is going to get dragged before Congress like his predecessor was and grilled about how his bank is not cleaning up its act fast enough. It's going to be ugly. But it could be a lot less ugly if this imagined exchange were allowed to become a reality:
ELIZABETH WARREN: Mr. Sloan, your bank has still failed to properly punish those involved with the bad behavior exhibited over the course of many years and the people you wronged are still hurting. What is your defense for how Wells Fargo has acted and how can you assure the American people that Wells Fargo is not still ripping them off?
TIM SLOAN: Senator Warren, I understand that you don't like me or my bank...but you know who does? Gertrude Abernathy, a really sweet 94-year-old lady from Tiburon, California who I personally deliver dinner to every Thursday evening as part of Wells Fargo's Meals on Stagecoach Wheels. Just last week Gertrude and I were chatting as she ate the Chicken Stroganoff I'd brought and she said "Timmy, tell me more about that reverse mortgage idea. I trust you like a son"...
WARREN: (muttering) You sly motherfucker...
It just makes sense. For a few million bucks a year (Wells can register the thing as a non-profit and take donations), the most-hated bank in America can become the bank that feeds some of our neediest compatriots. Soon forgotten will be fraudulent accounts opened by employees pressured to act criminally by a corporate culture fueled by greed, only to be replaced by images of Wells Fargo as a symbol of saving grace in a fractured national psyche.
And after this thing really kicks in, Wells can start trying to cross-sell these codgers while shoveling lukewarm lasagna at them and convincing them that their money is not safe at Chase.
Also, Uber should buy Planned Parenthood but we'll keep that for another day.
slipping a pamphlet about reverse mortgages under the tray of lasagna.