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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

At Wells Fargo, The Troubles Have Compound Daily Interest

Tommy Tomlinson

So it turns out that the shameful and embarrassing things Wells Fargo did for years, as a matter of practice, turn out to be even more embarrassing and shameful than we thought.

The federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency filed a new round of charges the other day against five former Wells executives. Those executives are accused of leading the way as the bank broke rules and defrauded account holders between 2002 and 2016. That’s at least 14 years when Wells Fargo was cheating many of its own customers.

They were also, it turns out, abusing their own employees. The documents that back up the latest charges show that managers put relentless pressure on bankers to meet sales goals. The ones who didn’t meet the goals were sometimes ridiculed in front of the co-workers. Even ones who beat their goals were sometimes chastised for not beating them by enough.

What that led to, over a period of years, was bankers at the retail level opening new accounts for customers without their knowledge – because opening new accounts was one way bankers could meet their sales goals. Some bankers shuffled money between customers’ accounts – again, without them knowing. This led to illegal fees, and confusion, and who knows how much financial heartache.

Wells Fargo had admitted that thousands of its employees were involved. The new report says it was more like hundreds of thousands.

It should go without saying, but I guess at least some bankers need to hear it: Our money is a fragile and precious thing. When we put it in a bank, we want access to it when we need it, and we want it to stay put otherwise. It boils down to this: We trust that the bank won’t screw around with our money.

Wells Fargo, on just about every level, broke that trust.

It hurts me to say that, not just because we have accounts at Wells Fargo, but because we have friends who work there and are good, solid people who have nothing to do with all this. The fraud stains them, too.

I don’t hold out any hope for the government coming in and breaking up Wells. If the big banks didn’t get dismantled after the financial crisis, when they nearly threw the country into another Depression, it ain’t likely to ever happen. About all we can ask for this point is for the feds to keep hammering. If there’s even more rot at the core of Wells Fargo, it’s time to find out.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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