This Wells Fargo story is nuts. The mega bank settled last week with various federal, state, and local agencies over what could be described a years-long, bottom-up revolt of “low-paid and ill-treated Wells Fargo employees against their bosses” setting hilariously unrealistic cross-selling quotas. In the absence of any legitimate avenue towards hitting monthly sales goals low-end employees did what most would do when their food and shelter depend on a crap job—they cheated. They cheated a lot.
This was all going on since at least 2011. And Slate’s Helaine Olen reported that, while Wells Fargo was unusually aggressive, banks in general got really serious about cross-selling after 2008. It’s worth noting that the jobs market hasn’t exactly been amazing over that period, so the bank’s employees had good reason to fear falling into unemployment if they didn’t hit their marks.
Predictably, under this sort of pressure, those employees wound up boosting their numbers by illegally enrolling thousands of Wells Fargo customers in all sorts of new accounts without their permission. One-and-a-half million unauthorized deposit accounts were opened, as well as 565,000 unauthorized credit cards. Debit cards were opened and new PIN numbers created. Employees created fake email addresses, forged signatures, and more.
That’s from Jeff Spross, who rightly remains incredulous that we’re totally cool with jailing people for years over dumb reasons but continue to “get skittish about punishing rich businesspeople when their leadership encourages harm.”
There’s surely a broader point here on the ideology of management-oriented hierarchal organizations and their functional complexities, both of which presupposes a fetishization of The Boss that fosters a lack of accountability for corporate leadership when things go wrong. But the more immediate result seems to be that we have a practicing criminal justice system that doesn’t even pretend to have the ability to pursue cases against systemically important economic agents that help design the rulebook. Of course someone still has to pay. In this instance, as in most, it’s those who are least respected in the worker pyramid. Over five thousand employees—the exploited who were forced to become the exploiters—lose their job for playing the game according to someone else’s rules.
Update (9/13/16): Shortly after settling Wells Fargo announced that the executive in charge of the unit responsible for much of this fraud is retiring with a $124.6 million dollar payday.
In a statement announcing the retirement, the bank said Carrie Tolstedt “had been one of the bank’s most important leaders and “a standard-bearer of our culture” and “a champion for our customers.”
A standard-bearer of the culture, indeed. And, well, lol to that second description. What’s that old sentiment from the Great Recession? The banks got bailed out, everybody else got sold out. Glad to see that’s changed.