THE BLOG
09/27/2016 03:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My 2013 'Warning' Letter To Wells Fargo's CEO John Stumpf

It comes as no surprise to me that employees at Wells Fargo resorted to dishonesty in opening bogus accounts, just to keep their jobs. Why am I not surprised? Because in 2013, after six years of employment, my sister was about to lose her job at Wells Fargo because she could not meet her sales goals. I wrote this letter to CEO John Stumpf, advising him that the intense sales culture was damaging to employees and consumers. I received a startling response. But first, here is that letter:

March 27, 2013

Mr. John Stumpf,
Chairman and CEO
Wells Fargo & Company
420 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94104

Dear Mr. Stumpf:

Knowing how busy you are, I apologize for the length of this letter; but as a long-time customer, I ask that you please grab a cup of coffee or tea, sit back, and take the ten minutes you will need to read this letter through to its end.

I very recently became aware of Wells Fargo's Vision Statement through a graduate school paper my niece was writing for a course. I was reading it, and here is what stood out:

"Our vision has nothing to do with transactions, pushing products or getting bigger for the sake of bigness. It's about building lifelong relationships one customer at a time."

Ironically, my sister, who has worked as a teller for Wachovia/Wells Fargo for almost six years and is terrific with customers, is about to lose her job. This is not due to unprofessional behavior. It is not due to excess absences. It is not due to transactional errors. It is not due to lack of excellent customer service. What it is due to is her failure to continue to meet sales goals through pushing products.

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She transferred from a large public branch to a Wells Fargo branch located on a military base in Xxxxxx, XX. It is a controlled location with limited opportunity for sales, since new customers cannot just walk in off the streets. That my sister is extremely reliable, has rarely missed a day of work, is well liked by customers and her manager, offers excellent customer service, and does a very good job as a teller, seemingly counts for nothing.

The fact is, she cannot meet Wells Fargo's designated product sales goals and is therefore on her final warning and expects to be unemployed within a month. It seems extraneous circumstances, like branch demographics or economic anomalies, are not taken into account by Wells Fargo when it comes to setting goals for evaluating employee productivity and determining job retention.

For example, when sequestration cuts occurred on March 1, 2013, I thought to myself, this is going to hurt military people in terms of jobs and pay. My sister will have even less opportunity to sell. Indeed, the military healthcare system is affected, and will be cut by $3 billion. Any expendable income that might have gone into a new account -- perhaps a Custodial College Savings Account -- will be diverted for basic necessities, like health care and food. Hiring freezes, smaller staffs, and furlough days... All of these things, I thought, will affect military families' finances, and consequently my sister's employment status.

My niece (this sister's daughter) worked for Wells Fargo for a year before going back to get her Master's at California State University. Since she and her mother have both been enmeshed in the Wells Fargo "sales culture," she found it contradictory that your Vision Statement cites customer retention and relationships, not the pushing of products. The fact is, on the front line, that vision does not hold true. There is so much emphasis on the sale of any product that a teller cannot realistically ascertain all of a customer's financial goals, as is also declared in your Vision Statement.

I was a banker in Miami, Florida in times when (besides location) great customer service was the most important inducement a bank had to offer. I have been a branch manager, a commercial lender, and a VP in charge of a private banking division. I "retired" at the age of 36, and I am now 58, so I have been out of banking for a very long time, it's true. But I experienced tremendous growth in my branches, in my lending portfolio, and in our private banking division. And I distinctly attribute that growth to excellent customer service, which led to customers entrusting me and my bank with all aspects of helping them reach their financial goals.

Now let's look at Wells Fargo's Values Statement, which was also in my niece's paper:

"When they're (employees) properly supported, incented, rewarded, encouraged and recognized, they're even more satisfied with their jobs, providing even better service for our customers."

This is a time unlike any other in Corporate America history, when production goals are very high, with fear and anxiety being the prevalent motivators. Yet Wells Fargo states that support, incentive, reward, encouragement, and recognition are its employees' motivators. In truth, neither my sister nor my niece ever felt this was a part of the Wells Fargo culture. Rather, all employees hear is that keeping their jobs depends on sales.

The motivators you tout are lost in the intense sales culture, and the job satisfaction asserted in the Values Statement is illusory. It seems to me that firing a very good employee of six years because she can no longer meet her sales goals, then hiring and training a new employee, with the expectation of that employee having a better, immediate and all-knowing grasp of customers' financial goals, is ideally and fiscally unsound.

I must tell you I learned of my sister's plight from her daughter (my niece referred to herein.) My sister has never voiced her concerns as complaints. She is grateful to have her job. So when I learn that she -- who would have been a valuable employee to me as a manager because of her work ethic and her customer relations skills -- is about to lose her job because she cannot meet rigid sales goals at her particular branch, I am saddened and distressed on her behalf. She needs her job, and so she works very loyally and diligently and does succeed in every aspect of her job over which she has direct control -- like great customer service and financial transactional skills.

My husband and I are long-time (Wachovia) Wells Fargo personal and corporate customers who still appreciate a banking relationship with the people of our local branch, though we do a great deal of our banking electronically. We recently had to obtain some information from our WF branch, via phone, regarding a wire transfer from Europe. While looking up the information, your employee made a sales pitch for a home equity line. While I admired the effort, I was once again reminded of the intense need to sell. I think this underscores my assertion that an employee cannot know a customer's financial goals when he makes a stab at selling just any product over the phone during an information-seeking call. It is all about sales, but then again, if he didn't ask, there is no chance at all for a sale! So that's good...But must keeping a job depend solely on sales? What about the good service he provided by getting me the information I needed? That matters, and that is what will keep me a lifelong customer.

So, Mr. Stumpf, I have addressed you from three perspectives: A relative to an employee, a former commercial banker, and a customer. I think all of these qualify me to give you an honest assessment of how your Values and Visions Statements fail to faithfully filter down to the front-line employees at the branch level.

That said, I am ending this letter with my thanks for your having read it, and with a wish for a more aware and benevolent Wells Fargo corporate culture--one that recognizes the value of excellent service in customer retention; and one that acknowledges dedicated, long-term, hard-working employees like my sister with the most coveted reward of all...Continued gainful employment.

Sincerely,

REBECCA WARNER

In just a matter of days, I received a letter from Claudia Tokarz, employee Customer Relations, saying that she was writing on behalf of Senior Management at Wells Fargo Bank, responding to my letter to Mr. Stumpf, Chairman and CEO. Did my sister keep her job? My next blog will answer that question.