The Barometer, a longstanding customer of Wells Fargo, admits to being a little insulted. The full and multi=page ads just keep coming from Wells Fargo. You know, “Established 1852. Re-Established 2018.” But, the talk of a diverse board. The $20-million expansion of its Innovation Incubator (IN2), which advancing emerging clean technologies and start-ups. The 433,800 meals through its joint effort with the United Way, the Wells Fargo Holiday Food Bank. And $1 million per day to charities. Then, $50 million to Native-American communities for economic development. Wells Fargo employees volunteering 5,500 hours per day. The list goes on. All good causes. All noble efforts. But, these old saw social responsibility tools are indulgences for the fake account debacle. The transparency of busting one’s buttons is misdirection. Never mind what you see going on in the news, we are reborn.
Here’s a smattering of the bad news that continues to erupt at Wells since the time of the fake accounts scandal: We learned in May that Wells improperly altered corporate clients’ data; We learned in June that Wells is now on the “no business with” list for state and municipal bonds because of its sales practices (including New York City); We also learned in May that an audit of Wells pension fund management revealed retention of fees that should have come back to the cities and states using Wells as their managers and those government entities are now switching their fund to other managers; We learned that Wells’ brokers kept rebates that should have gone to their customers; Wells’ share price has risen only 8% since September 2016 (just before the fake accounts scandal emerged); and Wells is struggling under the federal restrictions placed on it because of the fines, penalties, and regulatory oversight. And with each new issue, we get the Wells line that it was a system error. The Barometer will give them that: FIX THE SYSTEMS!
It seems as if Wells is trying to buy a reputation. Oh, that it were that easy to recover from a scandal (and some subsequent misdeeds) that destroyed trust. Like a new or re-established business, Wells will need to earn back that trust slowly. Trust does not come from flashy ads of braggadocio. It comes from rooting through the whole bank for lax processes and control, for managers and leaders who do not buy into being reborn and are simply laying low until they get through “this government thing,” and focused audits on how divisions are earning their revenue. Are those numbers real or have they been achieved through some tactic that will emerge? My bet is on some issues that still have not emerged at Wells.
That type of effort is quiet, takes time, and cannot be flashed about as evidence of progress. In short, Wells has a culture problem and good deeds will not cure it. In fact, it makes those who are really not on board with the ethics things more cynical: “Okay, so we paid a fine and were slow for awhile. Look how much we made before we got caught, and we can do some good deeds as penance and move on.” An internal focus, not external fluff, is the ticket here. Fluff is insulting, especially to longstanding customers who would welcome the pride that we would have in our bank’s quiet humble efforts to truly change.