Wells Fargo is America's Stagecoach Robber—Believe Me, I Worked There

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Wells Fargo is America's Stagecoach Robber—Believe Me, I Worked There

I’m furious and disgusted with Wells Fargo for their latest scandal, where they opened 2 million fake financial accounts and stole millions of dollars worth of bogus fees from their own customers. Wells Fargo, for years, was acting aggressively to encourage its bank employees to “cross-sell” different products to its bank customers by encouraging people to sign up for credit cards and additional accounts, and sometimes the pressure from management caused low-level sales people to feel like they had to break the rules in order to meet their sales quotas and avoid losing their jobs. To date, 5,300 employees have been fired and the company has paid $185 million in fines.

I don’t know why I’m taking this one so personally. After all, no one should be naïve about the capacities of American banks to do the wrong thing; Wells Fargo is a big American bank, and big American banks do lots of bad stuff all the time. But this latest Wells Fargo scandal somehow feels worse than the rest. Even the credit crisis and financial meltdown of 2008, which was caused by lots of big banks being too greedy and too lax in issuing subprime mortgage loans to people who had no business getting a loan, and by committing predatory lending behavior against poor, minority and disadvantaged borrowers, seems “better” than this. Because even though they almost wrecked the whole global economy, the subprime loan scandal was more understandable and forgivable—because everyone in the financial industry was doing it, everyone was benefiting from it (companies and shareholders and consumers alike), regulators and financial journalists turned a blind eye to it, and lots of otherwise-smart people thought that the party was never going to stop because housing prices were going to keep rising forever.

But this new scandal from Wells Fargo is even more disgraceful, because of the sleaziness of it, the smallness of it, the meanness of it. Banks are supposed to help protect their customers from fraud and identity theft; Wells Fargo was actively committing fraud and identity theft. They were reaching into their own customers’ pocketbooks to pad their bottom line. Wells Fargo’s brand is the noble Western stagecoach, but the bank is acting more like stagecoach robbers. A few days ago, there was widespread social media outrage about a man in New York who was caught on camera blatantly stealing $600 from an elderly woman in a wheelchair—after he gets out of jail, he should get a job as a Wells Fargo bank executive.

Speaking of Wells Fargo executives, here’s Elizabeth Warren verbally decapitating CEO John Stumpf earlier this morning:

Full disclosure: I used to work at Wells Fargo from 2006-2010. It did not go well; I got into the financial services industry just in time for the subprime meltdown, financial crisis, and Great Recession. In fact, I almost got fired from Wells Fargo (for general incompetence and insubordination) because I was bored and lazy and miserable, and I realized a few years too late that I never wanted to sit in a cubicle or work in corporate America ever again (I used to have panic attacks in my cubicle all the time; once they had to call 9-1-1 for me, and paramedics wheeled me out on a stretcher and took me to the Emergency Room because they thought I was having a heart attack).

When I worked at Wells Fargo, my favorite pastime at work was to sit in my cubicle and think of ways to kill myself. My best friend at work was Fidencio, one of the Mexican janitors, and I used to envy him and the other custodial staff because they always would sit together during lunchtime, laughing and chatting happily in Spanish, and I used to think, “How nice it must be to have friends.” I always ate sad microwaved lunches alone at my desk, staring at my windowless wall, surrounded by co-workers who, I later learned, were secretly conspiring against me and complaining to my boss behind my back about things that I wrote on the Internet in my personal time. (CONFIDENTIAL NOTE TO MY FORMER BACKSTABBING CO-WORKERS: I now make a lot more money writing things on the Internet than any of you make working at Wells Fargo! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! SUCKERS!!!) I somehow hung on for dear life long enough to not get fired, because my wife was pregnant and we needed the health insurance. Apparently I do my best work when my back is against the wall; I’m a very bad employee, really—never hire me for anything other than “writing angry political rants on a freelance basis.”

But one of the things I remember from working at Wells Fargo is that people who worked there tended to have a lot of pride in the unique culture and heritage of the bank; even during the most miserable days of the global financial meltdown, they really believed that Wells Fargo had ethical leaders and that we were—at least, relative to the rest of the banking industry—doing things better and treating customers the right way. Wells Fargo employees were proud to have Warren Buffett as their biggest investor—one of the widely respected “good guys” of American capitalism. Wells Fargo is a major employer in my home city of Des Moines, IA, and I know a lot of good people who work there.

And maybe that’s what makes me so mad: the many good people I know who work at Wells Fargo deserve better than an executive leadership team that would allow this kind of systemic betrayal of customer trust.

Because it’s ultimately all the executive leadership’s fault, right? They’re the ones who are supposed to maintain the bank’s reputation and set the tone for the company’s internal culture. They’re the ones who are supposed to be held accountable when things go wrong. But instead, Wells Fargo fired 5,300 low-level bank employees for their roles in the fake account-openings, while the top community banking executive, Carrie Tolstedt, recently announced that she’ll be retiring with a $124.6 million payday.

This is absolutely disgraceful. But this is how it goes in America: the little people on the front lines get fired and the big guys (and sometimes gals) at the top get paid. Hey, maybe it’s a sign of progress that women business executives are finally getting away with being as crooked and overpaid as men?

In America, if you steal $50 out of someone’s pocket on the street, you’ll go to prison for years. (Hell, if you’re black, and you get caught shoplifting or selling stolen cigarettes or even just driving with a broken tail light or playing in a park with a BB gun, the police will shoot or choke you to death on the street.) But if you run a company that steals millions of dollars from its own customers, you get to ride off into the sunset with a lavish $124.6 million retirement.

And even if Carrie Tolstedt wasn’t running a systematically crooked operation, what did she ever do that was worth $124.6 million?? How does such an allegedly “heavily regulated” industry even allow for such a massive executive payday? Wells Fargo’s not doing anything innovative and value-generating on the level of Facebook or Apple; they’re not creating whole new industries or whole new ways of communicating or whole new ways of unlocking human potential; they just move people’s money around and deduct fees along the way. And then they gradually buy up other banks and move even more people’s money around. What a fucking joke.

Hey, Carrie Tolstedt: you know what’s better than having $124.6 million? NOT SPENDING YOUR WHOLE LIFE WORKING AT WELLS FARGO. I’m never going to have as much money as you, but I’ve gotten to spend the past six years getting paid to write, getting to hang out at home and spend lots of time watching my kids grow up everyday, getting to collaborate creatively with cool people, and I never have to feel bad about the ethical implications of my work. You’ve got your nice pile of millions, but where’s your soul?

Wells Fargo can rot in hell. Shame on all of them: shame on their executives, shame on their Board, shame on their overpaid slimeball PR people who wrote this mealy-mouthed passive-voiced corporate-speak statement about being sorry that some customers “received products and services that they did not request,” when what really happened is THEIR BANK STOLE MONEY FROM THEM, and to hell with all the dimwitted managers in expensive clothes who managed to claw their way out of the call center and now make their living by pressuring lower-paid young employees into doing the wrong thing and making hard-sell sales pitches to customers who just want to do simple banking transactions while the website is down, and fuck all criminal capitalists everywhere who pick their own customers’ pockets and then congratulate themselves on being good at business. America’s whole economy is basically just: “Keep reaching into the next person’s pocket and wait for the next crash.”

Carrie Tolstedt and CEO John Stumpf and all the other top Wells Fargo executives deserve to resign in disgrace, and then they deserve to be viciously taunted and booed and called filthy names in public. They deserve to be ostracized and protested by angry mobs like Stanford rapist Brock Turner. I’m sick of these rich bastards looting their companies for huge paydays while screwing over their own customers and undermining the public trust (just 8 years after Wells Fargo got billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts, no less). Maybe we can’t get them fired, maybe we can’t take their money away, maybe we can’t protest outside their luxurious mansions in the elite gated communities where they live, but we can at least make them feel really uncomfortable and unwelcome wherever they go in public. America needs to stop heckling comedians and start heckling bank executives.

And you know what REALLY makes me mad? I am a Wells Fargo customer! And I would LOVE to righteously protest my bank’s latest outrage by taking my banking business elsewhere, but I can’t! Because I’ve got too many accounts with Wells Fargo and too much of my business banking is tied up with them and it would take HOURS and HOURS of my very limited free time to deal with all of the hassles and re-connect all of my online bill pay stuff (Wells Fargo has excellent online bill pay! Damn them!) to all of my new bank-or-credit union’s online bill pay stuff, plus most credit unions don’t work with my business expense-tracking software, plus there are two Wells Fargo ATMs located conveniently close to my house, plus I deal with lots of clients who send me money via wire transfers and ACH deposits, etc. and I just can’t deal with this shit right now.

So instead, I’m just going to sit here and simmer with impotent, defeated rage at the bank that is profiting from my own life’s struggle. Because Wells Fargo was very successful at cross-selling me into lots of banking products and services (that I actually wanted and requested and benefit from every day), and at this point, it’s probably not worth my time to switch banks just to make a statement of principle.

See? Wells Fargo is crooked and infuriating, but they’re very goddamn good at what they do. Maybe these sleazy Wells Fargo executives deserve their big bonuses after all! Or maybe I have no principles and I deserve to keep being bled dry by capitalist pigs.

Final Score: Ben Gran 0, Capitalism 124.6 million