It has been two years since Wells Fargo was embroiled in one of the biggest banking scandals in history. Under pressure to hit sales targets it was revealed that staff had created millions of fake bank accounts in order to hit their goals. Despite huge fines, a congressional mauling and public apologies, employees at the 166-year-old bank claim little has changed.
“It doesn’t feel like they’ve changed much of anything, to be honest,” Meggan Halvorson, a Wells Fargo private mortgage employee for six years, told the Guardian. “Things put in place don’t seem to be doing much of anything and we still hear complaints from customers.”
Since the scandal broke Wells Fargo has paid over $1.7bn in fines, $575m of that as late as December. Its executives have been grilled by Congress and the bank has promised “a new day”.
And yet frontline bank workers, many of whom felt scapegoated during the fraudulent account scandal, are still mistreated, according to Halvorson. She said workers are still under intense pressure from middle management to get their bonuses, compensation lost from the reduction of financial incentives hadn’t been replaced for frontline workers and sales teams still lean on workers to push through deal closings as quickly as possible.
“There’s no real respect for people’s work-life balance,” said Halvorson. “The overwhelming thing you hear from management is: ‘Just be thankful you have a job.’”
The bank has moved to address pay since the scandal and its decision to rethink the bonuses that led to the problem. In December 2017, Wells Fargo announced plans to increase their base minimum wage to $15 an hour, citing last year’s $1.5tn tax cuts by the Trump administration, which largely favored corporations, as the incentive.
The rise came after Wells Fargo announced plans to cut its workforce of 265,000 employees by 5-10% and reportedly sent hundreds of mortgage and call center jobs overseas.
Workers are pushing to increase minimum wage to $20 an hour as Wells Fargo continues to post multibillion-dollar profits.
Wells Fargo saved an estimated $3.7bn annually from Trump’s tax cuts and has authorized $40.6bn in stock buybacks since the tax cut passed. A Wells Fargo representative cited a commitment to generating strong returns and capital to shareholders as the reason for the buybacks.
In June 2018, Wells Fargo’s chief executive officer, Tim Sloan, received a $4.6m raise, putting his annual total compensation at $17.6m, 564 times more than a full-time bank worker who makes $15 an hour. That wage rise came as the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren called on Wells Fargo to axe Sloan, arguing he was “deeply implicated in the bank’s repeated and egregious misconduct”.
“In a lot of our cities right now $15 an hour isn’t an adequate wage for people to live on. When I started, I was making a little over $15 an hour. I’m not making much more than that now, and I still have to work a second job just to pay my bills,” said Alex Ross, a bankruptcy specialist in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who has worked for Wells Fargo since February 2017. “When we’re working for a bank that’s one of the largest financial institutions in the country, there’s no reason anybody working for an institution of that size shouldn’t be able to rely on that income to keep a roof over their head.”
Halvorson and Ross are among several Wells Fargo employees organizing with the Committee for Better Banks (CBB), a coalition of bank workers, community groups and labor organizations, to hold Wells Fargo accountable to their frontline workers and customers. The coalition provides an organizing outlet for bank workers across the industry, a sector that has the lowest rate of unionization in the US economy.
“CBB Wells Fargo members are the ones who helped expose the scandal a few years ago. They’ve been pressing for change. Wells Fargo’s initial reaction was fire thousands of frontline bank workers,” said Nick Weiner, an organizing coordinator at CBB. “They have no confidence or faith the company will improve things absent they have an independent organization where they can safely raise concerns without retaliation.”
CBB recently claimed Wells Fargo cancelled a meeting with CBB members and Wells Fargo workers that was originally scheduled for 5 December 2018 to discuss issues and concerns from frontline bankers.
“This is a typical pattern from Wells Fargo of being untrustworthy, saying one thing and doing another,” said Shannon Bade, an organizer with CBB. “It’s abhorrent how the eighth wealthiest company in the world treats their workers, all for profit.”
CBB said the company backtracked on permitting CBB members to attend the meeting to ensure Wells Fargo employees were comfortable openly addressing concerns without fear of retaliation.
In an email, Wells Fargo said: “We value opportunities to engage and meet with our team members. We recently committed to and arranged for an internal meeting, which included a group of team members who are members of the Committee for Better Banks. We were disappointed that the meeting did not occur, and we remain available to meet with the team members in the future.”
Wells Fargo has also ignored a push from workers and CBB to include a bank employee on Wells Fargo’s stakeholder advisory council to provide a safe outlet for workers to blow the whistle on internal issues without fear of retaliation. “They formed this council, but are unwilling to have any stakeholder who explicitly represents the interest of frontline bank workers. What are they afraid of?” said Weiner.
A Wells Fargo representative disputed Weiner’s characterization of the situation. “We greatly value input from our team members and have made significant changes based on their feedback, including enhancing benefits, adding paid holidays and expanding restricted stock awards to all eligible team members,” they said.
“We remain focused on closely examining our company, fixing issues we find and making things right for all of our stakeholders. While there’s more work to do, rebuilding trust with our team members, customers, communities, shareholders and regulators remains our top priority.”