At the end of his thorough roasting in front of the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday morning, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf found himself on the business end of some tough questions from Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon. Merkley cited the accounts given by a number of Wells Fargo employees—the kind of people on whom Stumpf, who makes $19 million a year just in salary, has pinned the entire scandal at his firm—about the intolerable boiler-room culture that exists at the firm’s various outposts.
It was Merkley’s contention, backed up by considerable anecdotal evidence, to say nothing of common logic, that this culture put the firm’s grunts under so much heat from above to meet sales quotas that many of them succumbed to the pressure and started creating fake accounts under the names of real people. Merkley asked Stumpf to respond to this. And Stumpf said the following:
“Sir, that sort of thing has no place at Wells Fargo and nothing we did would encourage that.”
On Wednesday, inevitably, CNN Money talked to some former Wells Fargo employees and…well, you know what’s coming next.
“They ruined my life,” Bill Bado, a former Wells Fargo banker in Pennsylvania, told CNNMoney. Bado not only refused orders to open phony bank and credit accounts. The New Jersey man called an ethics hotline and sent an email to human resources in September 2013, flagging unethical sales activities he was being instructed to do. Eight days after that email, a copy of which CNNMoney obtained, Bado was terminated. The stated reason? Tardiness. …Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf made precisely that point on Tuesday when he testified before angry Senators. “Each team member, no matter where you are in the organization, is encouraged to raise their hands,” Stumpf told lawmakers. He mentioned the anonymous ethics line, adding, “We want to hear from them.” But that’s not the experience of some former Wells Fargo workers. One former Wells Fargo human resources official even said the bank had a method in place to retaliate against tipsters. He said that Wells Fargo would find ways to fire employees “in retaliation for shining light” on sales issues. It could be as simple as monitoring the employee to find a fault, like showing up a few minutes late on several occasions. “If this person was supposed to be at the branch at 8:30 a.m. and they showed up at 8:32 a.m, they would fire them,” the former human resources official told CNNMoney, on the condition he remain anonymous out of fear for his career.
Didn’t lying to Congress used to be a big deal, or did I just dream that?
The firing certainly took a huge toll on Bado’s life. It put a permanent stain on his securities license, scaring off other prospective bank employers. Today, the New Jersey man’s house is on the verge of being foreclosed on and he’s working part-time, at Shop-Rite. “You wonder where the justice is,” Bado said. Ken Springer, a former FBI agent who runs a firm that offers a whistleblower hotline service, was alarmed by the allegations made by former Wells Fargo employees. “That’s retaliation. It’s a big problem — and a perfect example of what shouldn’t happen,” Springer said. “It looks like there’s been a terrible breakdown of checks and balances at Wells Fargo.”
Some people who get pretty big checks sound like they were pretty unbalanced. I’ll buy that.