Amid growing scrutiny over its sales practices, Wells Fargo is abandoning its longstanding practice of calling its more than 6,000 U.S. branches “stores.”
“Our customers tend to call our locations branches already, as places where people come to be with us and where we can serve their financial needs,” spokeswoman Bridget Braxton told the Observer on Friday. “Shifting to this terminology better reflects the way our customers think about us.”
The decision comes as San Francisco-based Wells works to repair its reputation following regulators’ accusations the bank’s employees opened millions of accounts that customers may not have authorized to meet aggressive sales goals.
Wells Fargo agreed last month to pay $185 million in fines to settle the accusations, which it didn’t admit or deny.
For years, Wells Fargo has been the only large U.S. bank to refer its branches as “stores,” underscoring Wells’ strong sales culture that encouraged employees to get eight products in the hands of each customer. The use of the term extends to former Wells Fargo CEO Dick Kovacevich, immediate predecessor to current CEO John Stumpf.
While not every bank uses the term “branch” – Charlotte’s Bank of America, for example, calls them “financial centers” – Wells Fargo was unique among the largest banks for its use of “stores.”
Use of the term has brought criticism to Wells, including during a hearing last week on the bank’s accounts scandal before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee.
“I never, ever in my life referred to my branch, bank, in Applewood, Colorado, as a store,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., told Stumpf at the hearing. “You don’t sell Veg-O-Matics. You don’t sell grapefruit. You take people’s money, you safeguard it.”
Stumpf, in response, said that regardless of what the bank calls its branches, the focus is on providing products and services that will help customers.
“Whether we call them a store or a ‘branch’ or a ‘location’ ... it’s the hearts and mind of our people inside,” Stumpf said.
The switch to “branches” is the latest change the bank is making to its practices, as it seeks to win back the trust of customers and appease angry lawmakers calling for the bank to be broken up and Stumpf to resign. In other steps, the bank on Saturday eliminated product sales goals for its retail bankers.