Finance

Michael P. Regan is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering equities and financial services. He has covered stocks for Bloomberg News as a columnist and editor since 2007. He previously worked for the Associated Press.

If you wanted to get a good outline of the high-pressure sales culture cited as the impetus for the fake-account scandal at Wells Fargo, it's been hiding in plain sight on the Internet for several years -- not in the news, however, but rather in computer-animation videos posted on YouTube.  

Using the free robot-voice animation web site xtranormal.com, YouTube posters with pseudonyms such as wellsfargoisabadbankWellsFargoIsHell and Wachovianatheart posted cartoons with unflattering depictions of the bank's managers and its handling of customers. 

It's impossible to say how much satire and exaggeration is involved in these videos, or even whether the people who posted them are actual current or former Wells Fargo employees, but the culture depicted by them is eerily similar to how the bank has been portrayed in news reports since the scandal broke.

For example, a video uploaded in 2010 titled "Wells Fargo Jump Into January 2011 Morning Huddle" features a manager discussing the many "solutions" employees were expected to sell, how their jobs were at risk if they failed and how branch workers would be rewarded with $5 gift cards to McDonald's while executives received cash bonuses of tens of thousands of dollars. 

"Unless somebody is going to open a new account that will have higher fees, we really don’t care about helping them because Wells Fargo is all about sales and fees," the cartoon Wells Fargo branch worker says. "Let's work hard so we can get that gift card."

There are plenty of other videos to be found on YouTube, including "Wells Fargo mid-session MGF review" and "Working the lobby wells fargo." (Note: The salty banker language in some of these videos is definitely not safe for work.)

One of the most biting is titled "Wells Fargo Jump Into January 2011." It depicts a community banking president having a conversation with one of the branch managers. 

"Please share with me how you plan to hit 400 checking accounts and 2,000 solutions this month," the president asks, after berating the branch manager for wearing a cheap suit.

"Well, I plan to work 90 hours a week for the next four weeks," the manager replies.

"That's not good enough," the president says, suggesting the manager contact his friends.

"I don't have any friends left. They are sick of me harassing the hell out of them," the manager says, adding that his family has disowned him. "My wife left me because instead of getting intimate with her, I was trying to get an account."  

Again, sarcasm and exaggeration are obviously dripping in these videos. But in some cases truth appears to be even stranger than the expected fiction. A video from December 2012 titled "morning huddle wells madness" contains dialogue of a vice president informing an employee that "your manager is outside, she is requesting medical attention due to a nervous breakdown she is having." That's less shocking than the New York Times article on Friday describing a worker who began drinking the bank's hand sanitizer to help fend off panic attacks.

No Laughing Matter
Wells Fargo shares have been slow to recover in the wake of the fake-account scandal
Source: Bloomberg

It's important to note that these videos were making the rounds before 2013, when recently retired CEO John Stumpf said he and his senior managers first became aware of the severity of the bank's problem, according to his testimony before Congress. You would think such cries for help might bubble up the chain of command. I guess managers were too busy with sales goals to watch YouTube. 

There's a lesson here for leaders both in the corporate world and the regulatory world: social media is a powerful marketing tool, but it's also a powerful tool for disgruntled employees or their allies to air grievances.

Compliance and risk staff at other firms -- not to mention investigators in various government agencies -- would be wise to slot some time in their schedule to pop some corn and watch YouTube. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Michael P. Regan in New York at mregan12@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Daniel Niemi at dniemi1@bloomberg.net