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Former Wells Fargo employees talk about pressure behind banking scandal

Wells Fargo

Most people depend a lot on their bank. For some, it's just a place to hold their money; for others, it’s where you go for help to buy a new house or car.

But for millions of Wells Fargo customers, their bank is now accused creating thousands of fake accounts without their knowledge.

A group of former Wells Fargo employees in El Paso describe the bank as a pressure cooker environment where management insisted on using customers' personal information to hit sales goals and earn big bonuses for bank leaders.

"It's not just local, it's a culture nationwide," said one former employee, who did not want to be identified.

Wells Fargo is now being accused of fraudulent business practices.

Another employee, who was fired from Wells Fargo for not meeting sales goals says, "It was awful because it was all about sales and not about the customers."

"You work for the bank, you don't work for the customers," said a third former Wells Fargo employee, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Federal regulators describe Wells Fargo as a culture of illegal activity reaching epic proportions.

"We were pressured to open accounts that the customer didn't need," said one of the unidentified former employees.

Investigators say bank employees were creating millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts. They were racking up an estimated $400,000 in fees paid to the bank.

Employees say the orders came from the top, and the ones most affected were the employees at the bottom.

One of the former employees says, "I had to open at least 50 accounts just to meet minimum quotas."

"I remember one Saturday I marched my whole family down-- my wife, my kids and we all opened up accounts because that was a requirement," says one of the former employees.

Employees say managers were constantly pushing them to meet sales quotas.

"The instructions were you are here to make money for the bank and that's all you have to worry about," said a former Wells Fargo employee.

These former employees now decided to speak out against the bank’s business practices because they say customers were adversely affected.

"It was stressful. It was just a really nasty environment because you don't know what other shoe is going to drop that day," says one of the former employees.

Another says, “The instruction was you tell your bankers to sell and if they're not going to meet their goal, they have to go."

They say when they tried to speak up and do the right thing, there was retribution.

"I was constantly bullied not only by the manager but also by the employees that I had reported," said one of the former employees.

Another one said, "That's probably why I got fired so early on. I didn't play the game. I did not play the game."

Employees say that managers instructed them to tell customers they needed several accounts, and they couldn’t just open one.

“This is no other option. If you want to bank with Wells Fargo, you have to get a checking and a savings and a credit card. And do all these products. Otherwise we can't open up the account," said the former employee.

They say every customer walking through the bank’s doors had to be fully packed, which means they had to have several Wells Fargo products—a checking, and several savings accounts, and “no” was not an option.

"What they were asking for was unrealistic--- open up 10,15, 20 checking accounts in a day," said one of the former employees.

Another one says, "during the banker training they teach you how to do all these things. How to sell checking, savings account, credit cards to the customers and even if the customer says no."

Employees say they were also instructed to push credit cards and money market accounts because they yield higher fees.

"Sometimes it would be the worst account for the customer," says one of the former employees.

"One of the things that the manager told me-- well you have to understand, the bank is here to make money."

Employees say more accounts equaled more bank fees, even if the customer couldn't afford it.

"There was a time where I had a customer who owed just in fees, because of those accounts that I was instructed to open up, like about $560," said one of the former employees.

They also describe another tactic called gaming.

"Gaming is when I would open up an account for a customer that a customer did not need, or I would close out an account and open up a new one," said the employee.

They say not following orders meant dire consequences.

"I was fired because I wouldn't play the game; I wasn't meeting my numbers," said one of the former employees.

Another one says, “It was like going to a jailhouse to get tortured and pretty much we were given the license to rob people."

Since last September, Wells Fargo has been under the microscope.

The bank was fined $185 million. Multiple investigations -- including ones by the Department of Justice -- are now ongoing. The bank is also accused of violating Whistleblower protection laws, after firing 5,300 employees nationwide.

We reached out to Wells Fargo. They released this statement:

At Wells Fargo we aspire to foster a supportive and engaging work environment for team members. We have made fundamental changes to help ensure team members are not being pressured to sell products, customers are receiving the right solutions for their financial needs, our customer-focused culture is upheld at all times and that customer satisfaction is high. This includes ending all product sales goals for the retail bank, effective October 1st.
We are intently focused on restoring trust in Wells Fargo, making things right with customers and taking actions to ensure sales practices issues do not happen again. Among other steps, we have named a new head of retail banking and changed the retail bank’s risk management processes and protocols for customer account activity. We are also engaging independent experts to review sales practice across our company and evaluate our company’s culture to determine if additional changes need to be made. The company will take additional actions as we gather more facts.
We do not tolerate retaliation against team members who report their concerns. Our non-retaliation policy makes clear that no team member may be retaliated against for providing information about suspected unethical or illegal activities, including fraud, securities law or regulatory violations, or possible violations of any Wells Fargo policies. If a team member thinks that they or someone else has been retaliated against for reporting an issue, they should report it as soon as possible. Wells Fargo will take measures to protect team members from retaliation.

CBS4 spoke with these former employees for several hours about their time at Wells Fargo. They did say there are things that you, as a consumer, can do to protect yourself, so you're not pushed into something you don't need.

First, they say, ask a lot questions. Understand what a bank is recommending, and what you're getting into. Don't just take the bank's word for it.

Get the name of the person you're dealing with. That way if you have an issue, you can always come back and refer to that person and what they said.

Don't be afraid of getting a second opinion, just like you would with a doctor.

Read everything before you sign anything, and understand that you have rights as a consumer.

Lastly, don't be afraid to say NO!

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