Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Wells Fargo Ends Practice of Alerting Managers to Branch Visits

  • Bank will no longer give 24-hour notice before inspections
  • Lender taking ‘hard look’ at all processes, spokeswoman says

Wells Fargo & Co., the lender struggling to recover from a scandal involving bogus customer accounts, is eliminating its practice of giving retail bankers a day’s notice before internal inspectors visit a branch.

The bank’s “branch control review process has evolved over the years to consist of electronic, centralized documents that are reviewed outside and in advance of branch visits,” Mary Eshet, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based firm, said Tuesday in an e-mailed statement. “We continue to make improvements and take a hard look at all our processes, and in order to remove any possibility of an issue, we plan to eliminate the 24-hour notice.”

Tim Sloan, who took over as chief executive officer in October after John Stumpf resigned, has said he’s working to rid the bank of practices that contributed to the accounts scandal and last week announced the creation of an ethics office responsible for rooting out bad behavior. Community bank head Mary Mack unveiled a compensation plan for retail-bank employees this month that favors customer-service scores over sales goals.

Branch employees in the retail bank used notice periods of 24 hours to 72 hours to falsify records and forge customer signatures, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier Tuesday, citing current and former workers it didn’t identify. Wells Fargo hasn’t set a date for ending the notifications, Eshet said in the e-mail, adding “the plans are in process.”

Some retail bank operations have suffered since federal authorities fined the bank in September. Retail customers opened 40 percent fewer checking accounts in December from a year earlier and submitted 43 percent fewer credit-card applications. Community bank profit fell 15 percent to $2.7 billion in the fourth quarter from the preceding three-month period as Wells Fargo took in less from mortgage banking and fees it charges on deposit accounts.

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