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Wells Fargo Customer Abuse Unmasked

Wells Fargo signBad bank behavior is nothing new, but a recent Los Angeles Times investigation confirms what some of you may have experienced.

Banks will go to great lengths to get you to sign up for things you never thought you needed — and probably don’t. Sometimes they’ll even sign you up without your permission.

The article outlined how Wells Fargo pressured its employees to sign up customers for overdraft coverage and credit cards. If an employee didn’t meet a quota for selling the bank’s products, he or she faced termination.

“The relentless pressuring to sell has battered employee morale and led to ethical breaches, customer complaints and labor lawsuits,” according to the paper.

The Times reviewed internal bank and court documents and interviewed 28 former employees and seven current employees in nine states to find:

  • Employees opened duplicate accounts for customers, sometimes without their knowledge.
  • If a customer was preapproved for a credit card, employees would sign them up without asking.
  • The bank talked a homeless woman into opening six checking and savings accounts that cost $39 a month in fees.

Wells Fargo offered up some bland comments about how these accusations are something they “take very seriously.” Chief Financial Officer Timothy Sloan told the paper that he wasn’t aware of any overbearing sales culture.

These statements may work on the gullible, but Wells Fargo has demonstrated a great knack at pushing its multiple products on unsuspecting customers. High-pressure sales tactics — and ethical lapses — are a predictable result.

Wells was, and maybe still is, the envy of the industry when it comes to cross-selling financial products.

A 2011 Wall Street Journal article featured bankers gushing about how Wells was able to sell its customers an average of 5.7 different products.

“They have a system which every other bank in the world is now emulating,” Richard Bove, an analyst at Rochdale Securities, told the Journal. “You go into a branch and they immediately hit you with some sales pitch.”

Indeed, the bank proudly touts its ability to cross-sell, but Wells Fargo certainly isn’t the only one treating customers like dog poop on the bottom of its shoes.

If you’ve ever walked into a branch to make a checking account transaction and you’ve been referred to a “personal banker,” watch out for the cross-sell.

These people are not looking out for you, and they’re bound to steer you toward products that are laced with fees or — worse — can put your nest egg at risk, particularly if the bank is trying to sell you on a brokerage account.

Our advice: If you feel like someone is trying to pressure you, walk away.

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