I have been a customer of the same bank for more than 30 years. At least it seems like the same bank, even though it has been under five different names, as bigger and bigger brands acquired the system I was in. I haven’t always been thrilled with their service, but it has been adequate, relatively inexpensive, and their branch locations are convenient enough.
Every time I have been tempted to change to another bank because of an attractive offer or some kind of discontent with my long-held accounts, I have been dissuaded by the amount of work it would take to untangle all the automatic payments, deposits and transfers that have accumulated in my accounts over the years. “Ah, but that’s how they getcha,” you might be tempted to say and, of course, you would be right.
But now “my” bank, and I use the quotes to indicate the relatively tenuous relationship I have with them, has gone a big step further in chiseling away at my confidence in their brand. They recently admitted, very publicly, to having thousands of personnel who created millions of unauthorized accounts, without the knowledge of their customers, in order to make sales quotas, bonuses, stock options, and other rewards like getting to keep their jobs.
Their CEO was called before Congress and grilled for hours by one particularly annoyed senator. While admitting that they had fired several thousand people for these practices over the last few years, the CEO claimed he had very little awareness of what was clearly an institutional failure. (In the life-imitates-art department, the CEO’s right hand was bandaged as the result of some unspecified injury—perhaps his hand had gotten caught in a teller’s drawer, or perhaps it was from a slap on the wrist issued by his board of directors.)
Yes, the bank brand is Wells Fargo, and I want to share a brief conversation I had with a Wells Fargo representative when I called to ask if there were any fake accounts set up in my name.
“Hello, this is Amy, how can I assist you today?”
“Yes, I was wondering if there were any fake accounts set up in my name.”
“Well, let’s check on that, Mr. Taylor.”
Note that Amy didn’t ask what the heck I was talking about, or even try to deflect the question in any way. She reviewed the list of accounts that she had on her screen and they matched the ones that I was familiar with.
“So, Mr. Taylor, we do apologize for this inconvenience, but you don’t appear to have any other accounts with us.”
“Yes, Amy, but if they were created secretly, how would I know, and how would you know, if they really existed?”
This was Amy’s response, word for word, “Actually, we’re going through a tough time right now, sir.”
Which, strangely enough, gave me pause. It was a surprisingly honest way of admitting their issues and, even if it was scripted, I give Wells Fargo credit for being forthright. As their long-time customer, I am now trapped in a brand relationship that I don’t particularly value, but for which the inconvenience of changing is simply greater than any moral outrage I may feel about their systemic transgressions. But, Amy’s admission was a glimpse of what it’s like for an innocent employee of a major brand that has been swept up in the consequences of illegal actions and, in fact, now has to face the customers who have been affected by the scandal.
That shows the extent of the damage that Wells Fargo has done to their brand. Their customers are mistrustful. Congress is outraged. And even their employees are wondering what their employer may do to them next.
As published in the Reading Eagle.