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Ex-Wells Fargo workers: Sales focus was all-consuming

Ken Sweet
Associated Press

New York — It began with the constant and compulsive pressure to sell. Then came stress-induced health problems. Wells Fargo employees, both current and former, say they spent every day frantically trying to persuade customers to open more accounts — not for any bonuses, but simply to keep their jobs.

Even in an industry known for performance demands, the sales goals were unprecedented. Employees described a near-obsessive focus from managers on a daily — or even hourly — basis about whether they were meeting the targets. It’s no surprise that Wells executives called each location a “store” rather than a bank branch.

“Every single day the first question out of my manager was, how many appointments did I have today? How am I going to meet my goals?” said Mikey McGinn, who worked for Wells Fargo as a teller and a banker from 2007 until July of this year.

Wells Fargo’s operations are under scrutiny since it agreed to pay $185 million to federal and local authorities to settle allegations that bankers striving to meet the targets opened credit card and bank accounts, moved money between them and even created fake email addresses to sign people up for online banking — all without customer authorization.

Employees say the immense pressure to sell, coming directly from top executives, spurred them to push products customers did not need nor want. Many are angry that Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, castigated Tuesday by the Senate Banking Committee, has put the blame on retail bank employees and that more than 5,300 employees have been fired since the bank started investigating.

“We had to meet sales goals every day or I could get written up,” said Khalid Taha, who worked at a Wells Fargo branch in San Diego from 2013 until July 2016. Taha said he was one of the few in his branch who met his quotas, but called doing so “a miracle.” Taha says he never did anything unethical or illegal at the bank.

While it varied by branch size and day of the week, a typical employee had to sell between 13 and 15 banking products a day — a new account, a mortgage, a retirement account, or even online banking.

Julie Miller was a Wells Fargo branch manager until 2013. She says she never did anything illegal while at Wells, but said there were ways to game the system.

One tactic her employees would use would be closing accounts and then reopening them, a practice known in the banking industry as “churning” accounts. Under the guise of giving a customer overdraft protection, bankers would open credit card and savings accounts for them, knowing the savings account would never be funded to a level that would actually provide protection, Miller said.