Sales pressure drove Wells Fargo banker to drink hand sanitizer

Wells Fargo has fired its CEO allowed its CEO to retire, Minnesota native John Stumpf. It’s taken out full-page ads to assure its customers it’s not the ethically-challenged institution the facts suggest it is. It’s changed its procedures to ensure that customers are no longer getting signed up for unauthorized bank products that the bank pressured the employees to foist on the unsuspecting patrons.

The only thing the bank hasn’t done is made things right for any of its working stiffs who were also victims as scapegoats while the company execs tried to keep the scandal from claiming themselves.

Today, the New York Times gives them a voice.

One of them is Angie Payden, of Hudson, Wis., who worked for Wells Fargo from 2011 to 2014.

I started to have extreme physical stress-related symptoms as well as random panic attacks. At some point during that summer, the stress was so intense that I could no longer handle the pressure. On the banker’s desk, in the bathroom, behind the teller line and in the vault, the store kept bottles of hand sanitizer.

One morning, before meeting with a customer, in which I knew I was going to have to sell unneeded services, I had a severe panic attack. I went to the bathroom and took a drink of some hand sanitizer.

This immediately reduced my anxiety. From that point, I began drinking the hand sanitizer all over the bank.

In late November 2012, I was completely addicted to hand sanitizer and drinking at least a bottle a day during my workday. In December, I was confronted by management about my behavior. I decided to seek treatment and went on leave.

The recent news stories have reactivated my memories and P.T.S.D. I am now having nightmares and flashbacks of that time period. It is horrible.

“We had customers of all ages, but the elderly ones would at times be targeted, because they don’t ask many questions about fees and such,” another former employer, Brandi Baker, who worked at a branch in Galesburg, Ill., said in an interview with the Times.

Wells Fargo said it couldn’t comment on individual “team members” involved in the scandal.

The U.S. Senate isn’t finished with Wells Fargo execs, even though Stumpf “retired,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

In a letter to the firm yesterday, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., asked Wells Fargo’s board of directors how they decided that another company exec, Timothy Sloan, was fit to replace Stumpf.

“It is difficult to believe that he had no knowledge of or bears no responsibility for the actions of thousands of Wells Fargo employees creating fake accounts under his and other top executives’ watch,” Warren and Menendez wrote.

  • Mike

    >>In a letter to the firm yesterday, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), asked Wells Fargo’s board of directors how they decided that another company exec, Timothy Sloan, was fit to replace Stumpf.<<

    What happened at Wells Fargo is awful, but this sort of grandstanding on the part of politicians is just dumb. If senators want to change the laws or strengthen enforcement of current ones, that's very obviously within their power to do. That's arguably why they get elected. The silly micromanaging, however, seems like a distraction – a ruse to stop the public from holding the politicians accountable.

    What business it is of theirs who becomes CEO, or how that decision is made? They need to focus on compliance with laws and regulations.

    • The purpose of hearings is to get information on the record. That’s what the committee did. Undoubtedly there will be some legislation proposed — and which will then die because the banking/financial industry holds the pursestrings for the politicians.

      But the hearings is pretty much how it’s supposed to work, particularly when the only power a minority party has anymore is a bully pulpit. This isn’t really anything new and it’s pretty much how it’s supposed to work.

      The only thing that’s new here is the increasing frequency of the “why didn’t you stop me?” defense of obvious wrongdoing.

      • Mike

        That sounds like an admission that it’s all theater. I learned a long time ago not to pay any attention to what politicians say. It’s what they do that matters, and those two are often far apart.

        • Holding hearings and getting information to the public through them is what they do. It’s part of their job. It’s inaccurate to suggest it’s not

          • Mike

            And if no meaningful change in law or enforcement comes of all the public hearings – the requirements of executives to appear in sackcloth and ashes, our august representatives spouting platitudes for TV news and campaign commercials – then public cynicism about the whole spectacle is amply justified.

          • Even if no law comes forth, we’re still better informed about the issue around which people testify under oath.

            A hearing media spotlight Isn’t a bad thing. Otherwise we get a Kardashian story.

  • Will

    I recommend listening to this podcast, it gives you an idea of how these Wells Fargo employees were treated.

    The fact that Wells Fargo tainted the permanent record of these employees could cost the company a ton of money in a class action lawsuit.

  • Anna

    The Czechs have a saying, “Fish smells from the head.”

    Other nationalities might have the same folk saying. In this situation it fits.

    You can’t promote the managers a few steps from the CEO office and expect things to change. They are guilty by association whether they knew about the scam or not. A complete reorganization is necessary and that means throwing everyone out at the top and starting over.

    When fish goes bad you throw it out. You don’t keep it and hope it doesn’t have enough contamination to kill you.

    Wall Street has never been very good at policing its own and they continue to promote the same quid pro quo that got them in hot water in the first place.

    It’s high time we had a national database with license and disciplinary information for licensed investment brokers and bankers.

    The financial industry makes up a huge percentage of the GDP. It’s time they faced the music.

    I listened to the podcast Will is referring to this morning on NPR. It is clear that banking officials will lie through their teeth to protect themselves and the politicians they pander to. The middle class does not have bottomless bank accounts to defend themselves in a lawsuit. or to fight for their rights. They are hanging on by a thread as it is.

    It’s time to bring back Glass-Steagall or something similar and put some teeth into it and stop all the insanity.

    Wells Fargo will never regain its reputation because it hit people where it hurts the most—in their bank accounts.

    Old memories die hard.

  • Jerry

    Does anybody else think it’s a little unfair to pin this woman’s problem on her employer? There are lots of reasons to dislike Wells Fargo, but I’m not sure an individual employee’s very strange decision to drink hand sanitizer is one of them. Dislike them for making a toxic work environment, sure, but the hand sanitizer was obviously her own very creative idea. That one’s on her.

    • tboom

      We all react to pressure differently. Just because you wouldn’t be driven to drink hand sanitizer under the pressure doesn’t mean she wasn’t.

  • tboom

    >>“It is difficult to believe that he had no knowledge of or bears no responsibility for the actions of thousands of Wells Fargo employees creating fake accounts under his and other top executives’ watch,” Warren and Menendez wrote.<<

    As an outsider I could deduce what was going on. Just reading an occasional business article and talking to friends who banked at Wells Fargo (articles focused on number of accounts per customer and friends constantly annoyed with Wells Fargo tellers pushing new accounts) painted a pretty complete picture. It's hard to believe an executive inside Wells Fargo wasn't fully on-board with the high-pressure tactics.