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Foodstamp Financiers: Wells Fargo Workers Protest Re-Emergence Of Predatory Practices

One of America’s biggest banks is going to be protested by an unlikely group today: its employees. As The Guardian reports, Wells Fargo bankers are protesting the bank’s alleged predatory practices – mainly the sales quotas imposed on some of its workers (which have led to at least 30 employees opening duplicate accounts, sometimes without customers’ knowledge, in order to inflate their sales numbers). One worker warns, “it is not in Wells Fargo’s best interest for customers to purchase products and services they don’t use or need.” Now where have we seen this kind of activity before? Wells Fargo bank workers are not the only ones struggling to make ends meet without breaking ethical standards as bank tellers have collected as much as $105m in food stamps.

“Basically, what I do all day is look at people’s bank statements,” said Michael Lewis, 46, who works as a financial crime specialist at Wells Fargo in Chandler, Arizona... “I have kind of an unique experience knowing how America spends its money and knowing how broke everyone is.

As The Guardian reports, the quotas, first exposed in a lawsuit filed by a long-term Wells Fargo customer, David Douglas, have led to at least 30 employees opening duplicate accounts, sometimes without customers’ knowledge, in order to inflate their sales numbers. The 30 employees have been fired, according to the Los Angeles Times. The quotas, however, persist.

While Lewis has no quotas to fill himself, he said he is affected by those imposed on the personal bankers.

 

“It does affect me in the sense that [the customers] will call and dispute an internal charge – like a travel insurance charge – that they never signed up for, and then we will have to address that,” he said. “People claim that they have been signed up for bank services that they never agreed to, like overdraft protection.”

 

Lewis has “no concrete proof” that bankers are signing up customers for these services without their knowledge in order to meet the quotas, but “that is the assumption”, he said.

 

A number of Lewis’s coworkers at the call center have previously worked at the banks and were subject to the quotas. “What I see a lot is a sense of relief that they have made it out of the bank,” said Lewis.

Back in 2013, when the reports of quotas and their effect on the behavior of tellers first came to lights, Wells Fargo created an ethics program office to “look at existing programs across the company to ensure consistency and a holistic approach”. The bank, the fourth largest in the US by assets, would not say what the creation of this office had accomplished, whether the quotas are still an issue nor whether the quotas had changed.

“We place a high priority on ethical business practices and a culture of doing what is best for our customers. It is in Wells Fargo’s best interest for customers to purchase only the products they need and benefit from – that’s what keeps them coming back for more for a lifelong relationship,” Richele Messick, the bank’s spokeswoman, told The Guardian.

Today, workers plan on holding a rally in front of the bank’s corporate office and demand a meeting with the bank’s executives to share their concerns around predatory practices and sales quotas.

Since December 2013, the workers have been collecting signatures on a petition calling for an end to sales goals. The workers plan to deliver the petition, which has a little over 10,000 signatures so far, on Monday. Among their other demands are better pay and full-time work.

These demands are highlighted by the following...

Prior to working at Wells Fargo, Lewis worked – in a similar capacity – at American Express for almost 10 years. By the end, he was earning almost $75,000 a year.

 

“One day, I was asked to go to India and train people there to do my job,” he said. Three months later, he came back and about half of his team – 15 people – got laid off, he said. Frustrated, Lewis quit and was soon hired by Wells Fargo.

 

“And now I am making half the money that I was at American Express,” he said. Working full time and earning $17.10 an hour, he makes about $35,000 a year. “I live paycheck to paycheck.”

 

The bank says that its workers’ wages are market-competitive and combine base pay with “a broad array of benefits and career-development opportunities”.

 

“All of our team members’ compensation levels significantly exceed federal minimums – in fact, all salaries are at least 50% above the federal minimum,” said Messick.

 

Wells Fargo bank workers are not the only ones struggling to make ends meet. In 2012, average pay for a bank teller was $11.59 an hour. Their median annual income was $24,940, according to US Department of Labor.

 

Thiago Marques, 26, lives in Newark, New Jersey, and works as a bank teller at Hudson Valley Bank, earning $9.50 an hour.

 

“The pay is not enough to survive on,” Marques, who lives with his parents, told the Guardian. “At least I am single and have no huge expenses. Imagine being my co-worker, who has two children and has to care for her house.”

 

To supplement their income, annually bank tellers have collected as much as $105m in food stamps, $250m in earned income tax credits and $534m in Medicaid and children’s health insurance, according to researchers at the labor center at the University of California at Berkeley.

*  *  *

We leave it to Khalid Taha, 27, who works as a personal banker in San Diego, to conclude:

“People see us wearing suits and sitting behind our desk and think we are bankers who make millions,”

 

“You don’t see our debt from these suits, from dry cleaning and from these shiny shoes that we are required to purchase from our pockets. We are not making enough to even rent our own house or apartment.”