In a memo to employees this week, Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan said the past two months have been “among the toughest of our careers,” but he emphasized the bank’s efforts to fix “weaknesses” in its culture.
The message to the company’s nearly 270,000-member workforce Thursday evening comes as the bank has been buffeted by a fake-accounts scandal that has spurred customer outrage, congressional hearings and multiple investigations.
In the memo obtained by the Observer, Sloan cited “tough headlines” in Bloomberg News and CNNMoney articles on Thursday. Bloomberg looked at how executives who pushed the bank’s aggressive sales culture were later promoted, while CNNMoney interviewed anonymous employees who described the dark mood inside the nation’s third-largest bank.
“During last week’s town hall meeting in Charlotte, I said we should expect more tough headlines as our work to restore trust in Wells Fargo continues,” Sloan wrote in the memo, adding: “It feels worse when news media use anonymous sources to speculate about our company and our team members, as was the case with these two articles.”
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He said it’s concerning to hear employees talking about “difficult conditions,” and it’s a priority of senior leaders to rectify the situation. Wells is based in San Francisco, but has its biggest employee hub in Charlotte, with more than 23,000 workers.
In the memo, Sloan highlighted steps the bank is taking to restore trust in its retail bank operation, including naming Charlotte-based Mary Mack as its new leader and eliminating sales goals. He noted Wells Fargo’s board is also conducting an independent investigation.
On Sept. 8, Wells agreed to pay $185 million in fines to resolve allegations that its employees, racing to meet aggressive sales goals, opened millions of accounts that customers may not have authorized going back until at least 2011. Since then, new probes have been launched by federal prosecutors, state attorneys general and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Sloan took over as CEO after John Stumpf stepped down last month, but many other top executives remain in place. He said the bank is committed to “executive accountability,” reiterating the company will take “actions, as appropriate, once we have the facts necessary to act.”
Wells spokesman Mark Folk said Sloan and other executives are committed to “open and frequent” communication with employees, customers and other stakeholders. In addition to sending memos, he has held townhall employee meetings, including the one Sloan mentioned in Charlotte, and filmed videos for the workforce.
One information technology employee told the Observer Friday that morale is low in the bank and that workers worry that having Wells Fargo on their resume will hurt them in any future job hunts.
As he has in the past, Sloan in the memo acknowledged weaknesses in Wells Fargo’s culture, and said the bank is taking steps to fix that. “We are not in denial about our reality,” he wrote. “We understand the issues we face, including the workplace concerns, and we are committed to conducting the outreach, transparency, and communications required to restore trust.”
Sloan also said it’s disturbing to hear claims that employees were retaliated against for flagging wrongdoing in the bank. On Thursday, three Democratic senators raised questions about whether Wells retaliated against whistleblowers by filing defamatory reports with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
The CEO noted that the bank is reviewing processes around its internal ethics hotline, and he encouraged employees to raise their hand when they “spot a risk in your area.”
The memo also asked employees to contact corporate communications to help with any media requests or government relations to assist with any contacts with lawmakers. “It is important that Wells Fargo’s communications and government relations experts manage inquiries,” he said.