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Message to Wells Fargo: Time to Start Seeking Forgiveness from a Couple Million, Soon to Be, Even Angrier Customers

 A few weeks ago, Wells Fargo managed to stumble, fumble and bungle themselves into a $185 million fine involving literally millions of bogus customer transactions. Amazingly, the current Wells Fargo settlement, however, keeps the same perpetrating executives, who created and facilitated this fiasco, particularly CEO John Stump, in charge of cleaning it up and preventing more problems from happening. This is a very bad joke on all Wells Fargo customers. This scenario is real but beyond belief. The laughter you hear in the background is all the Wells Fargo executives receiving big bonuses.

My recently published LinkedIn post, Mr. Stumpf, Why Are You Still Here?, caused lots of discussion on the topic. I am frequently before audiences, on webinars and other platforms, talking about business problems. However, now, I conduct a brief aural poll at the beginning of every talk and presentation. I ask three questions:

  1. Who here is a Wells Fargo customer (if you care to admit it)?
  2. Did you receive Mr. Stumpf’s rather bizarre email?
  3. How many of you have surprise accounts?

The responses have been quite interesting. Question one yields responses of various sizes in every audience. In one group, half the audience members had Wells Fargo accounts. Responses to question two indicate that Stumpf apparently sent his self-forgiving, self-serving, blame-shifting email only to a relatively small number of customers. This may indicate that Wells Fargo does not really know how to find everyone they defrauded. Question three produces the least number of “yes” responses. This is likely because Wells Fargo has yet to identify all of the victims they created.

In my own group of approximately six colleagues present when I asked the questions, four of us (including myself) had accounts at Wells Fargo. One had had all of her accounts suddenly shut down, accounts she knew she had, and unfortunately, some accounts she didn’t know she had.

What does this prove? Not a lot. But perhaps it is an indication of how widely and deeply this problem will continue affecting Wells Fargo’s customers.

It’s time for Wells Fargo to seriously and urgently begin seeking and earning forgiveness for the pain and suffering they have caused and will continue to cause.


How to Seek Forgiveness

This is the tough, disciplined path Wells Fargo must follow to reduce public anger and begin to reconstruct trust.

My advice to Wells Fargo:

  • Start now. The longer you wait, the more toxic the stalling becomes to your reputation. In crisis, speed beats smart every time. Get busy Wells Fargo.
  • The nine seeking forgiveness steps are what’s next until you can independently verify that forgiveness is being accomplished. It’s going to take a while. If something isn’t working, do it again until it does.
  • Resist the urge to combine or skip any of the nine steps. I repeat, resist the urge to skip or combine ANY of the nine steps. Crisis remediation, recovery and trust reconstruction require more and repetitive steps rather than fewer steps. Forgiveness requires more talking, more explaining, more question answering, rather than less. Do the nine, again and again. It’s part of your penance.

In situations like that which Wells Fargo currently finds itself, about the only thing that can be accurately forecast is that things are going to get worse before they get better. Bad news always ripens badly. One thing I can promise is that these nine steps are the way out of the hole Wells Fargo has dug for itself.

Step #1 Candor:

Outward recognition, through promptly verbalized public acknowledgement, that a problem exists; that people or groups of people, the environment, or the public trust are affected; and that something will be promptly done to remediate the situation.

Step #2 Extreme Empathy/Apology:

Verbalized or written statement of personal regret, remorse, and sorrow, acknowledging personal responsibility for having injured, insulted, failed or wronged another, humbly asking for forgiveness in exchange for more appropriate future behavior and to make amends in return. Avoiding apology is reputational suicide.

Step #3 Explanation (no matter how silly, stupid, or embarrassing the problem-causing error was):

Promptly and briefly explain why the problem occurred and the known underlying reasons or behaviors that led to the situation (even if we have only partial early information). Continuously update with new information as you find it.

Step #4 Affirmation:

Talk about what you’ve learned from the situation and how it will influence your future behavior. Unconditionally commit to regularly report additional information until it is all out or until no public interest remains.

Step #5 Declaration:

A public commitment and discussion of specific, positive steps to be taken to conclusively address the issues and resolve the situation.

Step #6 Contrition:

The continuing verbalization of regret, empathy, sympathy, even embarrassment. Take appropriate responsibility for having allowed the situation to occur in the first place, whether by omission, commission, accident, or negligence.

Step #7 Consultation:

Promptly ask for help and counsel from “victims,” government, the affected communities, independent observers, and even from your opponents.

Directly involve and request the participation of those most directly affected to help develop more permanent solutions, more acceptable behaviors, and to design principles and approaches that will preclude similar problems from reoccurring.

Step #8 Commitment:

Publicly set your goals at zero. Zero errors, zero defects, zero dumb decisions and zero problems. Publicly promise that, to the best of your ability, situations like this will be permanently prevented.

Step #9 Restitution:

Find a way to quickly pay the price.  Make or require restitution. Go beyond community and victim expectations, and what would be required under normal circumstances, to remediate the problem.

The sooner you get all nine steps operating, preferably within 30 minutes following the reading of this note, things will begin to improve markedly beginning the day after tomorrow.

Once you’ve completed all nine steps, resist the urge to say, “We’ve done all these things already; what’s next?” Statements like this are what I like to call “Verbal Vegetables.” You’re going to have to eat them publicly and somewhat frequently, real soon. You obviously haven’t done enough successfully or you would be in a lot better shape today. Stop the routine corporate urge to congratulate yourself prematurely (as Stumpf did repeatedly before the Senate) and which Wells Fargo has been doing from the first revelations of this fraud.

Do the crime, do the nine.


Breaking News

A potential October surprise: Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards program is another scam.

I’d be willing to bet that very few Wells Fargo customers who participate in the company’s Go Far Rewards program (where you get so many points for so many dollars of transactions) are aware that these points expire after a brief period of time. They should never expire. I’ve had a Wells Fargo account since I returned from the East Coast in 2010. I travel a great deal and the points mount up. I wasn’t really paying attention until this whole fracas started with Wells Fargo and I suddenly recalled that every month, several thousands of these points would be retired. Retired? How is that possible. Is it even legal?

I submitted a letter questioning the issue to the Minnesota State Attorney General, who, unbelievably, promptly sent my letter to the bank asking them to explain to me what their program was or something like that. The bank sent me a couple form letters several weeks later.

The Minnesota Attorney General clearly missed the question, which is, is it legal for the company to take something away that it has freely given as an incentive for me to do more business there? That answer is still out, but if this situation comes to light, literally millions upon millions of bank customers will recognize that millions, even billions of their dollars are being taken back daily by the bank. I’ll bet Wells Fargo is leaving Mr. Stumpf’s points right where they are though, probably providing a significant bonus if he survives. How about your points? Where are they? How many have you lost?

Many states have passed laws that prevent gift cards from being systematically billed to zero by the issuer. Seems to me the same should hold true for these kinds of incentive programs and that banks and other institutions should be prohibited from taking back these gifts they’ve freely given.

But, as I said earlier, more bad news is likely to come forward, real soon.

If you live in Minnesota you’re unlikely to have any recourse since the Attorney General’s office seems to be more connected to Wells Fargo than its own state citizens. But maybe if you live in another state you’ll be luckier.

Stay tuned, it’s going to get worse.

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