“Confessions” of a Former Wells Fargo Banker on the Sales Scandal

by on September 15, 2016 · 11 comments

in Civil Rights, Ocean Beach

wells-fargo-bankAnonymous Ex-Banker and OBcean Explains the Scandal of Fake New Accounts

By Anon.

You’ve seen the new recently regarding for-profit education scandals (Corinthian, ITT Tech) and Wells Fargo sales scandal. The following is my account of my employment experiences at two San Diego companies: Ashford University and Wells Fargo.

I have always wanted to help people financially and help them achieve success in their endeavors. I assumed my good intentions would eventually lead me to actually helping people financially. How naïve and wrong I was.

After graduating from a local college with a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, I worked as a telemarketer (Enrollment Advisor as they call it) for the online classes at Ashford University. I took this job for two major reasons: I needed employment after graduating and Ashford was responsive and hiring, and the pay was good- even better if you had a Bachelor’s degree.

At Ashford University, I was calling up to 1500 people every week in order to meet my 3 applications per week goal. It was grueling and tedious work, but the pay, training and equipment were top notch and I figured I could work it out.

My enrollees were hard working people who, usually after working a few years, knew they needed more education and a degree to advance. They chose Ashford for the same reasons thousands of people chose Corinthian or DeVry or ITT Tech- their finances or schedules could not accommodate the university tuition or class schedule or both.

After a few months on the job, I could start to see some of the cracks in the façade. Although Ashford University retained a regional accreditation (same accreditation as other public, 4-year schools), I began to have serious doubts about the academic rigor of our classes. Nobody ever seemed to fail a class. Even worse: a significant plurality of enrollees needed financial aid to complete these classes.

As an enrollment advisor, I was incentivized to ensure enrollees completed their first 4-week class. I did this by logging into my enrollees’ online classes and ensuring they submitted the homework and responded in discussions. The level of writing, reading comprehension, and motivation varied from competent to unintelligible. I concluded that many enrollees should not have been in these classes at all. After 8 months it became clear:

About half of our enrollees were marginal students with limited academic skills who were placed into shoddy classes and encouraged to take financial aid to do it. These same student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy – so Ashford University might be the financial anchor that drags behind them for the rest of their lives. I didn’t want to keep selling anchors.

I left Ashford after 8 months on the job. I didn’t have a backup plan, but I needed to get away from the massive potential financial harm we were causing. So I decided I could actually help people financially if I worked at a bank. After sending my resume to several banks, the first to reply was Wells Fargo.

I began my banking experience as a Wells Fargo teller in 2010 in the South San Diego area. My initial ideas of banking were dashed as soon as I arrived at my first branch: tellers had sales goals, bankers had daily sales goals, there was a palpably toxic management culture, teller training was pathetic, and information was more compartmentalized than the Pentagon.

After 2 months on the job as a teller, I was given ten paper applications to be returned with ten new accounts. My manager informed me that this was expected of every employee every January for the “Jump into January” (JIJ) campaign.

Let me explain: every month managers are expected to generate a prescribed sales number for every bank product. Management decided that January needed to have double the sales for a typical month in order to “start the year off well.” So how did my first JIJ go?

On January 1st, I handed the ten paper application back to my manager empty because I objected to selling checking accounts. I told her selling bank products wasn’t the same as selling girl scout cookies.

She was irate.

Most of the employees at my branch came back with 4 to 6 new account applications. These new accounts were their family members, extended family members, and friends.

I was shocked.

These accounts were opened knowing that 99% of those new accounts would never be used. As I came to find out as a banker, there was an unofficial system behind the opening of these types of accounts.

A few months later, my manager made a false accusation and attempted to have my employment terminated. My offense? I was talking to other branch managers about moving locations and promotions. Within a month of the false accusation, I was promoted to working as a banker at a new location- but unfortunately my branch was inside a grocery store (called in-store branches) and there was only 1 desk for two bankers.

I knew that as a banker, I would be asked to participate in the same account openings that I witnessed as a teller during JIJ. I resisted strongly, but the daily sales goal of 10 “solutions” (A solution was an opened product: opened new checking account, opened new debit card, approved credit card application) was almost impossible to hit every day of the week. My series of mangers directly coached me to cross-sell additional products to customers (presented as a way to waive the monthly maintenance fee or reward them for spending).

Customer: I need a savings account for my Social Security direct deposit each month and a debit card to take cash out of the ATM. (2 potential solutions)

Well-coached Wells Fargo banker: Ok, here’s what I did for you today: I opened a new Way2Save checking account with a debit card. In order to waive the monthly maintenance fee for the checking account, I opened two additional savings accounts for you. Each month your checking will transfer $25 into your first savings account and your debit card swipes will transfer $1 into your second savings. If you’d like, I can setup a transfer to move the money right back each month. You also have an offer for one of our great rewards cards that not everyone gets. Can I have that sent to you at your home address? (5 potential solutions)

Since my grocery store did not have an endless supply of new customers willing to open multiple products, I was forced to look outside my branch. As I mentioned before, only 1 desk for two bankers meant that I spent half my day in the back of our tiny office making out-bound sales calls. Although I worked in San Diego, I was calling people in San Bernardino to sell checking accounts. Eventually, even San Bernardino didn’t have enough customers for me to hit my daily solution goal.

Then I caved. After enough days of not hitting my daily 10 solution goal, I felt like my employment was on the line. I opened a new checking and two savings for my fellow banker and his spouse on a slow day (10 solutions) at the grocery store. On another slow day I opened individual accounts for my Mom and Dad (another 10 solutions). Another slow day meant joint accounts for my parents, then joint accounts for my mom and sister, then joint accounts for my sister and brother, and so on…

And then I discovered the unofficial system behind all the account gaming. Accounts were opened with the minimum required funds and left open for the required 3 months. After the required 3 months, the banker received credit for the account openings. Then immediately funds were transferred out and the accounts closed. After 6 months from the original date of account opening, new accounts could be opened for the same person and the banker would receive full credit. Thus, with a big enough rolodex of social security numbers, names, and addresses, a banker could continually hit their daily sales goal without ever doing any real banking work.

Additional contrary incentives were present too: credit applications were meaningless when it came to solutions. Only approved credit applications were counted as solutions – so the only way to reliably hit your solution goal was to open deposit products like checking accounts, savings accounts, and debit cards.

By the time I left Wells Fargo, I had up to 70 accounts in my name and my wife’s name. I had about 5 different checking account packages for each family member. Because of the sheer number of bogus accounts, my memory lapsed and I ended up incurring monthly maintenance fees on some of them. It cost me about $100 in fees to close all of the accounts for myself (opened by my fellow banker) and my family.

All of my managers at Wells Fargo were promoted. My fellow bankers and I resigned. During my three-year combined tenure at both locations, I never met a current banker who was promoted vertically. Not surprisingly, I witnessed 100% employment turnover every 6-8 months.

My quickest “solution” to the retail banking hell is to raise interest rates back to a normal historical level. Until then, banks will replace lost loan interest income with $36 overdraft fees, high pressure sales tactics, no interest on your savings, sheer dishonesty, and eventually, fraud on a massive scale.

Advice for the locals: there is a bank I love on Newport Avenue staffed by locals who know me. I encourage you all to get to know them too.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug Porter September 15, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Excellent article. Thank you for sending this in.


Baltimore September 15, 2016 at 12:34 pm

Great summery of mischief at Wells Fargo! Interesting story in the WSJ yesterday that said that the higher ups at the bank are blaming the employees and fired a token 5,000 plus lower level management and others. Total bank employment is over 268,000. No big heads will roll apparently!


RB September 15, 2016 at 1:20 pm

Good article. I also agree with your solution of a return to normal historic interest rates. Retirees and savers and normal banking activity has been harmed by the Federal Reserves easy money policies.

Note; A less aggressive sales atmosphere can be found at several local credit unions.


judi September 15, 2016 at 3:28 pm

Great article. Glad you decided to write it and submit it. Our of curiosity – what are you doing now?


Debbie September 15, 2016 at 4:03 pm

No doubt all that is true. Public corporations and games they play.

Great article!!!


Dave September 15, 2016 at 11:04 pm

Excellent read, thanks Anon. But I was once a low-level executive at one bank on Newport, and had a family member who held a similar position at the other – I can say with authority that horrible atrocities against employees, customers, and the FDIC were commonplace at both.

The local employees at the bank I worked for, though, were all great – it’s just the corporate governance that was deplorable.


nomen_nescio September 16, 2016 at 3:37 am

I would advise anybody banking with a major bank to switch to a localized credit union that has years of experience in their respective communities.
I’ve been seeing too many pop up banks then seeing them close in under 5 years time, makes me wonder if they aren’t mob fronted.
October is traditionally a bad time for market sinks, so just a warning.


AnotherformerEmployee September 16, 2016 at 7:34 am

Being a former employee as well, I can relate. I left the bank after 11 years because I just couldn’t take the micro-management anymore on customer interactions and having to come up with a reason other than “they just didn’t want that” when it came to why there was no credit card application put through or why there was not ANOTHER savings account opened for the customer.

I think I was the only employee in my store that only had 1 checking account and 1 savings account. The day my manager retired, she had closed over 20 accounts that were just opened for family and herself so we would be able to make our solutions goal for the day.

The final straw for me was watching a 90 year old, I had been working with for years, get 3 new accounts from an aggressive office in my region after she just went there to deposit a check. Oh, mind you, she has dementia. After having to deal with the irate children and the customer, I reported the incident to ethics. Good old ethicsline. Trust-worthy, anonymous, ethicsline. My DM was notified instantly, and retaliated against me. Our relationship was no longer there, and that banker that set up the accounts was just recently promoted.


LNMaggard September 16, 2016 at 10:39 am

EXCELLENT writing! Thank you very much for this detailed information. I’m sure this is atypical of any bank, lending institution, etc. No wonder our country is up shit creek and we’re all in it up to our eyebrows.


Anon. September 16, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Thank you all for the compliments!

Judi: I’m finally doing accounting work for 4 companies in the Orange County area. It’s quite a change from having sales goals – and I’m loving it.

Also – something I left out from the original: Retail banks pay Gallup to survey customers after transactions with individual employees. Gallup asks things like, “Did the employee make you feel special? Please score 1-5 (5 is the best).” You might be surprised to hear that retail bank management only considers perfect 5 score surveys acceptable. Any non-perfect survey is counted as a 0 against the employee…and pay is based off this Perfect/Fail survey.

The stress of the survey results every Friday at Wells Fargo often left very kind and excellent employees in tears.


Hamburgler September 19, 2016 at 11:52 am

Banks & Bankers are the ugly step-sister to Lawyers.

BTW, there are two banks on Rosecrans – Union Bank & Chase – which one are you referring to?

I will only use a Credit Union for my money/banking needs!


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