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Wells Fargo fires workers accused of cheating on sales goals

October 03, 2013|By E. Scott Reckard
  • New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman plans to file a lawsuit against Wells Fargo, the largest mortgage lender and servicer. Above, palm trees are reflected in the window of a bank branch in Hermosa Beach.
New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman plans to file a lawsuit against Wells… (Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg )

Wells Fargo & Co. has fired about 30 branch employees in the Los Angeles region who the bank said had opened accounts that were never used and attempted to manipulate customer-satisfaction surveys.

“We found a breakdown in a small number of our team members,” said Gary Kishner, a bank spokesman for the region, which stretches from Ventura to Pomona and south into Orange County.

The employees were trying to take shortcuts to meet bank goals for sales and customer satisfaction, Kishner said. Wells Fargo, based in San Francisco, employs about 6,500 people at branches in its L.A. Metro region, he said. Of those, fewer than half of 1% were fired.

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One of the fired employees said that in some cases signatures were forged and customers had accounts opened in their names without their knowledge. In other cases, the customers went along with the opening of the accounts.

The employee, who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity pending a meeting with an attorney, said the pressure to meet sales goals was intense at Wells Fargo. At times, managers required workers to stay in the branch after the close of business, calling their friends and family members, if they failed to open enough accounts during the day, the worker said.

Wells Fargo prides itself on its ability to sell customers multiple financial products — on the condition that this benefits the customer, Kishner said.

“Our team members do have goals. And sometimes they can be blinded by a goal,” he said.

A Times story in 2011 included details on Wells Fargo issuing reports to L.A. district managers showing every branch’s performance at signing up customers for debit overdraft protection. A change in regulations had meant that the bank could no longer sign up customers automatically for the protection, which cost $35 each time an account was overdrawn.

At least one manager threatened laggards with the loss of a prized perk — tickets to L.A. Lakers games and other sporting events at Wells Fargo’s luxury suite at Staples Center — if they failed to pick up the pace. The warning was in one of a series of emails obtained by The Times that emphasized the importance of getting customers to opt in.

John Sotoodeh, Wells Fargo's L.A. regional president, said at the time that the email was unauthorized and at odds with the bank's policy, which is for employees and customers to talk over the best alternatives for debit overdraft protection.

Those include the less expensive option of linking a checking account to a credit card or a savings account, and setting up text or email alerts when a customer's balance drops dangerously low, he said.

Sotoodeh could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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