BanksBusiness and Personal Ethics

Wells Fargo’s Ethics: What Can We Learn?

By September 30, 2016 No Comments

No company wants to be in the news for negative publicity, especially publicity that was generated from what most would describe as unethical activity by its employees.  Yet that is exactly what Wells Fargo has been facing for the past several weeks and it’s not getting better.  But this isn’t about Wells Fargo – those facts are well known now.  The question is what can we learn from this debacle?

what-can-we-learnActions Speak Louder than Words – What Can We Learn?

Wells Fargo’s vision and values states:

There’s an old saying: Actions speak louder than words. We need to show people what we believe. They need to see our vision and values come alive in everyday actions, not just in posters on the wall. Our customers need to see us doing the right thing and helping them succeed financially. Our team members need to see us respecting, honoring, caring for, and appreciating one another. Our communities need to see us taking part and investing in projects that are important to them. That’s how we truly bring our vision and values to life.

We want to be known as one of the world’s great companies, but we know that an outstanding reputation cannot be bought or manipulated. It has to be earned over decades by ethical, customer-centered behavior and team members who care. Our vision and our values come first, not our reputation.

What is written above reads well, but it is also a bit foretelling.  “Actions speak louder than words” and Wells Fargo’s actions speak the truth of the culture of the company.  What can we learn?

It is true – ACTIONS DO SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS.  Whether you’re a big publically traded company or a small local business, your actions are what people will remember when they judge you and your ethics.  Ask yourself if there is anything that you (or your business) are doing that if it became public you’d be concerned about or regret?  Sometimes it’s hard to make good first choices, but the honest truth is it’s far better and less costly than the damage that unethical choices can create.

Sales First, but at what cost – What can we learn?

Wells Fargo’s Six Priorities regarding revenue growth states:

Revenue is the measure that shows us how well we serve our customers’ needs, earn their trust, and grow our market share. It’s the vote our customers cast every day about our company. When they rave about our service, they’ll give us more of their business, increasing revenue. They’ll refer new customers to us. They’ll stay with us for life.

We can’t control the economy, interest rates, the markets, or world events. We focus on what we can control and what we can sustain long term: our core performance and our revenue growth. That’s our priority, whether the road is bumpy or smooth. Whether interest rates or unemployment are high or low. Whether the yield curve is flat or steep. Whether the economy is growing or contracting. What we can influence is our ability to serve customers and make smart business decisions. That’s what propels our revenue growth and creates shareholder value.

We see opportunities to continue increasing revenue across all of our businesses and serve more of our customers’ financial needs. For example, we want more of our retail bank customers to consider us for their brokerage and retirement needs. And we want to continue expanding the number of customers who have a mortgage or credit card with us. We also want to be the bank of choice for our business, commercial, and global customers.

Wells Fargo was fined for engaging in “widespread illegal” activity.  It’s now clear that employees opened as many as two million accounts without customers’ knowledge.  Wells Fargo acknowledged that it fired 5,300 employees over a five-year period related to improper sales practices.  What can we learn here?

Revenue growth is a priority according to Wells Fargo.  However, a large number of employees seemed to take that to the extreme.  The question that most organizations need to ask is – do our sales goals or objectives place undue pressure on our employees such that they feel they need to cheat in order to succeed?  Our aversion to loss is a strong emotion and one that sometimes causes us to make bad choices.  If you fear (as an employee) that you’d be fired for failure to achieve performance goals, then it’s possible to make really bad choices – just ask 5,300 plus Wells Fargo employees.

Ethics – the sum of all decision we make every day – What can we learn?

Wells Fargo “Our Values” states:

Our ethics are the sum of all the decisions each of us makes every day. If you want to find out how strong a company’s ethics are, don’t listen to what its people say. Watch what they do. This is even more important in our industry because everything we do is built on trust. It doesn’t happen with one transaction, in one day on the job, or in one quarter. It’s earned relationship by relationship.

Ethics are the sum of all decisions made every day.  Ethics are also easily defined as making the right decisions based on all the facts and circumstances.  “Don’t listen to what its people say.  Watch what they do.”  What would a reporter from the news media say about your business if they reported on what your employees do?  What can we learn from the Wells Fargo experience?

Wells Fargo’s ethics statement speaks truth.  The challenge now for Wells Fargo is that what a number of employees did was clearly not ethical.  What can we learn?  We can learn what not to do.

What can we learn?

  • Actions speak louder than words
  • Undue pressure to achieve revenue growth can create a foundation for unethical activity
  • Ethics are the sum of decisions we make each day

Every choice has a consequence.  Wells Fargo is experiencing that now.  With a substantial decrease in stock value, the CEO being forced to testify before Congress and a federal investigation underway, it appears that paying attention to the “what can we learn” items above would have created a far better outcome for Wells Fargo.

But this isn’t about Wells Fargo as much as it is about “what can we learn” for your organization.



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