Wells Fargo has spent years publicly apologizing for deceiving customers with fake bank accounts, unwarranted fees and unwanted products. Its top executives say that because they have eliminated the aggressive sales targets that spurred bad behavior, the bank’s culture has changed.
Many employees say that is news to them.
There is no evidence that employees are secretly opening accounts in customers’ names or tricking them into buying unnecessary auto insurance, as some did in the past. The bank has altered how it pays workers and added safeguards to catch bad behavior.
But Wells Fargo workers say they remain under heavy pressure to squeeze extra money out of customers. Some have witnessed colleagues bending or breaking internal rules to meet ambitious performance goals, according to interviews with 17 current and former employees and internal documents reviewed by The New York Times.
In Des Moines, where the bank — the nation’s fourth biggest — has a large debt-collecting operation, workers in December were expected to handle at least 30 calls an hour and recoup $34,000 in unpaid credit-card and other debts for the month. In January, the targets rose to 33 calls an hour and $40,000, goals that many employees there failed to attain, according to internal records.
“For us front-line workers, there’s an overwhelming sense of frustration,” said Mark Willie, who works in the Des Moines office and is part of a group, the Committee for Better Banks, trying to unionize Wells Fargo employees. “There is a general fear of retaliation for speaking out.”
Two mortgage-processing employees in Minneapolis said managers pressured their team to send documents that they knew contained incorrect information to borrowers to meet internal deadlines.
In a survey of more than 27,000 employees in the bank’s information-technology department late last year, top concerns included their ability to raise grievances with managers and whether “Wells Fargo conducts its business activities with honesty and integrity.” Workers recently flooded the bank’s internal blog with hundreds of angry comments about Wells Fargo’s sales incentives, pay and ethics and leaders’ “doublespeak,” according to screenshots of the blog reviewed by The Times.
Wells Fargo executives said in interviews that the bank’s culture had improved and that fewer bank employees had direct financial incentives to sell products to customers.