Wells Fargo: A Disconnect in Visions and Values

Wall Street Journal: How Wells Fargo’s High-Pressure Sales Culture Spiraled Out of Control


They say many branch managers routinely monitored employees’ progress toward meeting sales goals, sometimes hourly, and sales numbers at the branch level were reported to higher-ranking managers as many as seven times a day. Tension about how to meet the sales targets was common.

“If somebody said: ‘This doesn’t make sense. Where are you getting these sales goals?’ then [the response] was: ‘No, you can do it’ or ‘You’re negative’ or ‘Oh, you’re not a team player,’” says Ruth Landaverde, a former Wells Fargo credit manager in Palmdale, Calif.

She says she often got the same response whenever she said a customer didn’t need another credit card. “The answer was: ‘Yes, they do,’” she says. She quit after being warned she wasn’t reaching her sales goals, she says.

Employees at a Wells Fargo branch in Lincoln, Neb., had a daily goal to open two new checking accounts and make eight other product sales, says Steven Schrodt, who worked there from 2010 to 2012.

Managers asked employees who had fallen short of the targets if they could open accounts for their mother, siblings or friends, according to Mr. Schrodt and other former employees. He says he opened about 15 accounts for friends and family members. Mr. Schrodt says he decided to leave Wells Fargo because the sales pressure was too stressful. He is now in law school.

John Stumpf: The Vision and Values of Wells Fargo


Our progress has not been perfect. The expectations of others, and the even higher expectations we have of ourselves, have not always been met. When we make mistakes, we admit them, we learn from them, and we keep moving forward with even more understanding and a deeper commitment to doing what’s right.

We first published a Vision & Values booklet in the early 1990s as Wells Fargo’s predecessor, Norwest Corporation. Since then, we’ve grown from a small regional bank into a national company with a growing global presence.

Today, many of our team members trace their heritage to legacy companies that are now part of the Wells Fargo brand. Each of these companies brought with it new geographies, new capabilities, and inspiring stories. All have found a common cause in adopting our vision and values.

We believe in our vision and values just as strongly today as we did the first time we put them on paper, and staying true to them will guide us toward continued growth and success for decades to come.

As you read more about our vision and values, you will learn about who we are, where we’re headed, and how every Wells Fargo team member can help us get there. We’ve become one of the nation’s largest financial institutions, serving one in three U.S. households and employing approximately one in 600 working Americans.

We have team members in 36 countries, serving 70 million customers in more than 130 countries around the world. Forbes magazine ranks us among the top 10 publicly traded companies in the world based on a composite of sales, assets, profits, and market value. And we are consistently ranked as one of the world’s most respected banks by Barron’s magazine and one of the world’s most admired companies by Fortune magazine.

The reason for this is simple. We’ve never lost sight of putting our customers first and helping them succeed financially. Regardless of our growing size, scope, and reach, our common vision and distinct values form the fabric that holds us together wherever we are, whatever we do. As members of the same team, it doesn’t matter what our respective responsibilities are, our levels or titles, what businesses we’re part of, or where we live and work.
  • I am both a retiree from Wells Fargo (21 years) and
  • I am a happy customer for 20 years
  • I have personally never witnessed a violation of Well Fargo's Vision and Values but I was in IT for my entire time.
  • I do have a close family member who quit as a Wells Fargo teller because he felt undue pressure to sell products
  • In my time as a customer, they have never pushed a product on us. 
  • I believe that the nefarious activities have been relatively rare. But in a large company the numbers are likewise large: 1.5 M accounts and .5 M CC accounts. The number of fired employees is likewise large, 5,300! But that was over 5 years and with 300,000 employees the number is statistically small.
  • Nevertheless the scandal is real. 
  • With any organization, whether a church, government, or business, there will be bad apples
  • Upper management must more deeply impress the Vision and Values to the lowest levels and ensure that sales goals do not force this disconnect.


  1. NYTimes Wells Fargo Warned Workers Against Sham Accounts, but ‘They Needed a Paycheck’:

    The message to the dozens of Wells Fargo workers gathered for a two-day ethics workshop in San Diego in mid-2014 was loud and clear: Do not create fake bank accounts in the name of unsuspecting clients.

    Similar warnings were being relayed from corporate headquarters in San Francisco to regional bankers in Texas, as senior management learned that some Wells employees had been trying to meet exacting sales goals by creating sham bank accounts and credit cards instead of making legitimate sales.

    Across the vast retail bank, more “risk professionals” were deployed in efforts to stamp out the illegal activity.

    But the bank’s efforts were not enough. Three years after the first false accounts were exposed publicly and the authorities began investigating, Wells, one of the nation’s largest banks, said it was still firing employees over the questionable accounts well into this year.

    Some former employees say the explanation is simple: Wells has continued to push the sales goals that caused employees to break the rules in the first place. In fact, the goals at the center of a $185 million civil settlement and investigations by prosecutors in three states are not set to be phased out for another three months.

    “They warned us about this type of behavior and said, ‘You must report it,’ but the reality was that people had to meet their goals,” said Khalid Taha, a former Wells Fargo personal banker who resigned in July. “They needed a paycheck.”

    In the week since banking regulators and the Los Angeles city attorney announced the settlement with Wells over the illegal sales practices, Wells Fargo executives, including the chief executive, John Stumpf, have denied that the misdeeds were the result of a flawed incentive structure or an aggressive sales culture. In all, 5,300 employees have lost their jobs because of the scandal.

    Wells said in its defense that over the last several years it had adjusted its compensation structure to place less emphasis on meeting sales goals and more on other factors like good customer service.

    The bank analyzed potentially questionable accounts and employee terminations from 2011 through much of 2015 and concluded that it had made progress in cleaning up its act.

    Mary Eshet, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman, said the bank’s analysis of that period showed that the questionable accounts and the terminations had been declining since 2013.

    “The steps we have been taking have been effective,” she said. “And we are continuing to do more.”

    In interviews, former employees say the fact that the behavior has continued to occur — even if less frequently — shows that the bank has not been doing enough to stop it.

    The biggest problem, the former employees say, has been Wells Fargo’s aggressive sales culture, which was nurtured and honed over decades at the bank’s highest levels.

  2. What Did Wells Fargo’s CEO Know?
    One cause of the alleged improprieties of Wells Fargo’s incentive programs may have been clogged communications between senior management and employees.

    Dodd-Frank requires banks the size of Wells to have a Chief Risk Officer (CRO) who reports directly to CEOs like Stumpf. On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Stumpf defended the firm and its efforts to stop its allegedly illegal sales practices, claiming that it was the employees who did it on their own.

    “There was no incentive to do bad things,” Stumpf told the Journal.

    The obvious questions, then, begin with: If the incentives didn’t start at the top, why weren’t Stumpf and his team eventually informed of them? What kinds of information are Stumpf and the board of directors receiving from the company’s chief risk officer, Michael J. Laughlin? Is the board merely receiving information that management is pushing up to them, instead of the board pulling the information that it needs to perform its responsibility of risk oversight, which, again, is required by the SEC?

    One cause of the alleged improprieties of the bank’s incentive programs may well have been clogged communications between senior management and employees. Given the facts to date, we recommend that the Wells Fargo board engage an independent third-party expert to completely review the bank’s enterprise risk management program, focusing on the flow and quality of information going to the board.

  3. Grilling: Stung by scandal, Stumpf legacy at risk as he confronts Congress

    “A bank that purports to be as conservative as Wells Fargo says they are, clearly didn’t do the right kind of management,” said Sherrod Brown, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, which is holding the hearing. “No wonder people hate big banks, no wonder people are so suspicious of Wall Street.”

    “I have many additional questions for Wells Fargo,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, after he met with Sloan. “I have deep concerns about Wells Fargo’s response to this prolonged fraud.”

    Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, signaled during a Bloomberg TV interview last week that she’ll be an aggressive inquisitor at the hearing on Tuesday.

    “I’ve got a lot of questions for that man,” Warren said, referring to Stumpf. “Something is badly broken at that bank.”

    In Wells Fargo’s favor, the people said, is the relatively small amount of consumer damage. The bank agreed to repay about $2.6 million in fees it found were improperly charged to customers, but that’s an average refund of about $25 to those who were allegedly harmed.

    Wells Fargo has also said that the seemingly large number of people fired — 5,300 — happened over five years and should be put in context of its workforce of roughly 268,000.

    But in a national election year, where candidates are eager to take shots at large banks, none of that may have much impact.

  4. Wells Fargo case bares regulatory gaps:

    Justice Department officials are getting a late start in the Wells Fargo case, which involves over 2 million deposit and credit-card accounts allegedly opened without customer authorization. Prosecutors only learned of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau probe against the bank led by John Stumpf around the time the record fine was announced on Sept. 8, said the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

    That means authorities are belatedly tracking down possible witnesses and documents that could be harder to find now that the regulatory case has been settled. Wells Fargo did not admit or deny guilt, but fired about 5,300 employees in relation to the scandal, which dates back to 2011.

  5. Pot calling the kettle black: Hillary Clinton’s Open Letter to Wells Fargo Customers:

    There is simply no place for this kind of outrageous behavior in America.

  6. NYTimes: What Went Awry at Wells Fargo? The Beaten Path of a Toxic Culture:

    how can a toxic culture develop in a way that is diametrically opposed to everything leaders supposedly say and stand for? The answer lies in a variation on the classic “Do as I say, not as I do” admonition. Employees will get their cultural cues not from what management says but from what it signals.

    Those signals are embedded throughout the workplace. They can appear in overt ways, such as how compensation and recognition are done. Or they can emerge in subtler ways, as in which metrics managers obsess over, what questions they pepper employees with and how they react to dissenting opinions.

    These signals can easily overpower even the most carefully crafted corporate statements of mission and values. They surround employees at every turn, directing their focus and shaping their perceptions about what constitutes good versus bad behavior.

    The troubles at Wells Fargo, Volkswagen, G.M. and Veterans Affairs are all prominent examples of how workplace signals can shape organizational culture and employee behavior in apparently unintended ways. But this dynamic is present virtually everywhere, as I have witnessed while helping organizations find these contradictions.

    In the worst cases, these signals motivate unethical or even illegal behavior. More frequently, however, they simply inform employees’ views about what types of people and behavior a company truly values. While those effects might not make the headlines, the consequences can still be quite severe.

    For example, one company I worked with struggled to get its phone representatives to focus on the quality, rather than speed, of call handling. No matter what the executives said, employees stubbornly remained fixated on getting off the phone as quickly as possible, customer service be damned.

    What was really driving their behavior? With every call, their computer monitors prominently displayed a digital clock, menacingly ticking with every second the call persisted. That’s a workplace signal that management’s pronouncements simply could not eclipse.

    Another company was challenged by low morale among its service staff members, who perpetually felt like second-class citizens despite management’s repeated assertions about the importance of service to the company’s success.

    But the workplace signals told employees a different story. The service staff was housed in a tired, worn building — in stark contrast to the majestic gold-domed structure that housed most of the other employees across the street.

    That gold-plated signal of privilege also pervaded the company’s incentive systems. Outperforming sales representatives were rewarded with trips to lavish resorts. When service staff members exceeded their goals, they got a free meal ticket to the company cafeteria.

    And then there was the retailer with employees who were so focused on adhering to rules and regulations that they lost sight of the very customers they were supposed to serve. After digging into the workplace signals, the company spotted a problem. The first topic new hires heard about during corporate orientation was the 17 ways they could be fired for violating company rules. No wonder they were so focused on compliance at the expense of customer service.

    Organizations are often puzzled when employees act contrary to a company’s stated values or to its executives’ exhortations. There is no reason for surprise, though. The writing is on the wall, in the form of behavioral cues that shape a company’s cultural norms. Until business leaders start paying attention to these subtle workplace signals, they will continue to be surprised by what their employees are motivated to do.

  7. On size: Size wasn't the issue in Wells Fargo debacle:

    Imagine that the advocates for breaking up Wells Fargo win the argument and see it broken into four roughly comparable pieces, never minding just how they would pull that off. If a quarter-sized Wells Fargo was run the way the big one has been, it still would have had about 18 million customers and 8,000 salespeople. And, of course, it likely would have just owned up to opening 500,000 fake accounts.

    That’s not to suggest size isn’t a management challenge. But once a bank gets bigger than a branch, staying informed isn’t easy. It’s a problem Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf seems to understand.

    “By the time things come to me, through five layers of management, even shoe polish tastes like ice cream,” he observed about a year ago, at the Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco.


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