Wells and Its Culture: A Dozen or So More Employees Fired for Violating Bank Expense Policy

There comes a point when those in charge at Wells must pause and wonder, “What’s up with this place?” As the bank trots through its rebirth (if the ads and billboards accurately reflect intentions), government sanctions, and board members ousted by the Fed, new issues keep popping up hither and yon. The hither this week was the termination of more than a dozen employees in its investment bank for altering time stamps on emailed receipts for their dinner.

The Wells policy on dinner reimbursement permits employees to order in food and be reimbursed if they are staying late to work on deals or with clients. Some employees were regularly placing orders for dinner at times earlier than the 6:30 PM time that the earliest the policy permitted for reimbursed evening meals. Those employees who altered the time stamps were terminated.

The irony is that some at Wells are questioning whether termination was too harsh. If this type of activity is not a line-crosser that is clear to employees, there is a cultural problem. That there is disagreement indicates a bigger cultural issue. If you are willing to falsify records in order to get free meals, imagine what you would do to meet your numbers and goals for your bonus. Why, you might be tempted to make up accounts or improperly charge customers for services or keep fees that should be returned to your portfolio customers. Oh, wait — employees at Wells did all those things and more, according to pending investigations.

There is something deep within the Wells culture that has not made its way to surface and has not yet been addressed. Sometimes employees do engage in behaviors such as these that make no sense given their employer’s regulatory status. However, when they do such things it generally means, as with VW:

1. The compliance function is still not operating well or is not trusted.
2. The management team gives lip service to its commitment to fly right, but lives in denial, and employees see it.
3. Employees and management believe that they just need to get through the investigations and oversight and then they can go back to the way things were.
4. Employees believe that they are doing and were doing nothing different from what other banks were and are doing.

Sometimes the root cause of a troubled ethical culture is a combination of these issues (and many others, more complex than these). Regardless, Wells needs to get at what is really going on in its culture. If at least 12 employees in your investment bank are falsifying documents, more yon events will be percolating to the surface.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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