Wells Fargo changes are not enough, advocacy group says

This file photo shows a Wells Fargo branch along South Tryon Street in uptown Charlotte.
This file photo shows a Wells Fargo branch along South Tryon Street in uptown Charlotte.

An advocacy group for bank branch employees says there are still problems at Wells Fargo more than a year after a major sales scandal and is urging the company to make additional changes.

Concerns range from a need for higher base pay, to a “persistent aggressive” sales culture, to retaliation fears among some workers, the Committee for Better Banks wrote in a letter this month to Wells executives. It’s the latest effort to overhaul industry practices by Better Banks, whose founders include the large Communications Workers of America union.

The Oct. 18 letter, obtained by the Observer, follows a June 30 meeting where committee members who work for Wells shared their concerns with the bank. Wells Fargo followed up in August with written responses to items discussed at the meeting. But the committee complained in its letter that those replies failed to directly address critical issues brought up by the workers.

In a statement to the Observer, Wells Fargo said the issues employees raised at the meeting are some of the same ones the company has been working on. Wells said it encourages employees to share concerns and pointed to steps it’s taken to improve practices, such as ending all product sales goals in October of last year for retail bankers in branches and call centers.

“Wells Fargo remains committed to our open-door policy, which provides team members with multiple channels to engage in dialogue with the bank regarding important workplace issues that impact team members and the customers we serve,” the bank said.

Among other issues, the committee says the pressure to sell continues in parts of Wells Fargo, even after the San Francisco-based company agreed last year to $185 million in penalties to settle allegations the bank opened millions of accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers.

Similar complaints were reported by the Observer last month in a story in which Wells employees said pressure to push products and services has remained since the September 2016 scandal erupted.

In addition, some Wells employees are still in persistent fear of being retaliated against if they raise concerns about their workplace, the letter says. The committee said a survey it conducted this month found 12 percent of Wells workers expressed worries about retaliation, while 54 percent said they haven’t been able to provide constructive feedback to managers.

Wells Fargo said it has zero tolerance for acts of retaliation against an employee who makes a good faith report of improper workplace behavior. The company also said employees are encouraged to report concerns, which will be promptly investigated.

Wells also noted a range of changes it’s made since the scandal, such as extensive coaching-based leadership training for more than 800 leaders in its community banking segment over the past several months. In coming months, all roughly 6,000 branch managers will participate in similar training, the bank said.

Wells also said community banking leaders have collected input since the scandal from thousands of employees, feedback the company said has been incorporated into changes it’s made.

The company said one reason it knows it’s on the right track to becoming a better bank for customers, employees and communities is that, in the third quarter, total employee attrition reached its lowest level in over six years.

The Committee for Better Banks was formed in 2013 following the financial crisis and says its mission is to improve working conditions in the industry. The group’s members range from bank employees to consumer advocacy groups.

One key focus of the committee has been raising pay for lower-paid bank workers. The committee’s letter asks Wells to increase base wages to at least $20 an hour. Those workers “deserve to live with dignity and not depend on taxpayer-funded public assistance,” the committee said.

This year, Wells announced an increase in the lowest hourly pay it provides U.S. workers, to a new minimum range of $13.50 to $17, compared with $12 to $16 previously. Charlotte-based Bank of America in December announced an increase for its lowest-paid workers to $15 an hour, compared with a previous minimum of $13.50.

Wells Fargo said it is committed to providing market-competitive pay and over the past four years has increased its minimum pay annually.

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts