June 26, 2018
Wells Fargo is in the news again for taking advantage of their clients for encouraging brokerage clients to sell high-fee debt products early. It is important to note that Wells Fargo has neither denied nor admitted to the claims made by the Securities and Exchange Commission. And in full disclosure, I bank with Wells Fargo, but that does not stop me from questioning their actions. Over the past couple of years, Wells Fargo has made the headlines with a series of scandals for the treatment of their employees and their clients. In response to some of these charges, the Federal Reserve, in an unprecedented action, hit the investment bank with sanctions that prevents the company from growing beyond $2 trillion in assets (February 2018). An important step by a regulatory agency, but what about Wells Fargo's own accountability?
You may have seen the Wells Fargo commercials on television (if not you can watch the one I am referencing below). One opens with the horse drawn stagecoach in which the narrator says, “We know the value of trust. We were built on it.” It goes on to talk about bringing gold East and how the company continued to build trust, “Until we lost it.” As the commercial progresses, the narrator says, “But that isn’t where the story ends…It’s where it starts again. With a complete re-commitment to you. Fixing things that went wrong. And making things right.” This sounds great, and I admit, the commercial is powerful, but it represents nothing more than the hiring of a great marketing firm if leadership does not stand behind the sentiment and the commitment. And leadership cannot stand behind that commitment without complete transparency.
As I read about Wells Fargo’s newest scandal this morning, I couldn’t help but think about Emily Allen’s comment (SEER Interactive) in my interview about workplace culture “So, if we screw something up, what do we do? We tell folks, our team, our client, etc. We are transparent and we work together to fix it.” As she notes, transparency is vital. What Wells Fargo does not seem to understand is that transparency is not simply acknowledging the problem, which they did (once caught), but it also means digging deeper to see what lies beneath the surface. Problems often run deep and transparency cannot occur unless the digging has occurred and all of the problems have been identified, not just the ones noticed by others.
Whether you have made a mistake, discovered your team has made a mistake, or realized an entire unit division has made a mistake – be transparent and take responsibility. Hiding it or covering it up may feel like a temporary fix, and ignorance is never an excuse because in the end, ALWAYS in the end, the truth will surface. And it should go without saying, transparency is even more important when the issue is not a mistake, but rather a deliberate act. And when there is a deliberate act, the layers are likely quite deep and require due diligence before making commitments to employees, clients, and the public.
Ultimately, transparency is about your word. And all we have is our word, our commitment to perform to the best of our abilities with honesty and integrity. Once that is lost, there is little left.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies