By Anon / OB Rag
You’ve seen the new recently regarding for-profit education scandals (Corinthian, ITT Tech) and Wells Fargo sales scandal. The following is my account of my employment experiences at two San Diego companies: Ashford University and Wells Fargo.
I have always wanted to help people financially and help them achieve success in their endeavors. I assumed my good intentions would eventually lead me to actually helping people financially. How naïve and wrong I was.
After graduating from a local college with a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, I worked as a telemarketer (Enrollment Advisor as they call it) for the online classes at Ashford University. I took this job for two major reasons: I needed employment after graduating and Ashford was responsive and hiring, and the pay was good- even better if you had a Bachelor’s degree.
At Ashford University, I was calling up to 1500 people every week in order to meet my 3 applications per week goal. It was grueling and tedious work, but the pay, training, and equipment were top notch and I figured I could work it out.
My enrollees were hard working people who, usually after working a few years, knew they needed more education and a degree to advance. They chose Ashford for the same reasons thousands of people chose Corinthian or DeVry or ITT Tech- their finances or schedules could not accommodate the university tuition or class schedule or both.
After a few months on the job, I could start to see some of the cracks in the façade. Although Ashford University retained a regional accreditation (same accreditation as other public, 4-year schools), I began to have serious doubts about the academic rigor of our classes. Nobody ever seemed to fail a class. Even worse: a significant plurality of enrollees needed financial aid to complete these classes.
As an enrollment advisor, I was incentivized to ensure enrollees completed their first 4-week class. I did this by logging into my enrollees’ online classes and ensuring they submitted the homework and responded in discussions. The level of writing, reading comprehension, and motivation varied from competent to unintelligible. I concluded that many enrollees should not have been in these classes at all. After 8 months it became clear:
About half of our enrollees were marginal students with limited academic skills who were placed into shoddy classes and encouraged to take financial aid to do it. These same student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy – so Ashford University might be the financial anchor that drags behind them for the rest of their lives. I didn’t want to keep selling anchors.
I left Ashford after 8 months on the job. I didn’t have a backup plan, but I needed to get away from the massive potential financial harm we were causing. So I decided I could actually help people financially if I worked at a bank. After sending my resume to several banks, the first to reply was Wells Fargo.
I began my banking experience as a Wells Fargo teller in 2010 in the South San Diego area. My initial ideas of banking were dashed as soon as I arrived at my first branch: tellers had sales goals, bankers had daily sales goals, there was a palpably toxic management culture, teller training was pathetic, and information was more compartmentalized than the Pentagon.
After 2 months on the job as a teller, I was given ten paper applications to be returned with ten new accounts. My manager informed me that this was expected of every employee every January for the “Jump into January” (JIJ) campaign.
Let me explain: every month managers are expected to generate a prescribed sales number for every bank product. Management decided that January needed to have double the sales for a typical month in order to “start the year off well.” So how did my first JIJ go?
On January 1st, I handed the ten paper application back to my manager empty because I objected to selling checking accounts. I told her selling bank products wasn’t the same as selling girl scout cookies.
She was irate.
Most of the employees at my branch came back with 4 to 6 new account applications. These new accounts were their family members, extended family members, and friends.
I was shocked.
These accounts were opened knowing that 99% of those new accounts would never be used. As I came to find out as a banker, there was an unofficial system behind the opening of these types of accounts.
A few months later, my manager made a false accusation and attempted to have my employment terminated. My offense? I was talking to other branch managers about moving locations and promotions. Within a month of the false accusation, I was promoted to working as a banker at a new location- but unfortunately, my branch was inside a grocery store (called in-store branches) and there was only 1 desk for two bankers.
I knew that as a banker, I would be asked to participate in the same account openings that I witnessed as a teller during JIJ. I resisted strongly, but the daily sales goal of 10 “solutions” (A solution was an opened product: opened new checking account, opened new debit card, approved credit card application) was almost impossible to hit every day of the week. My series of managers directly coached me to cross-sell additional products to customers (presented as a way to waive the monthly maintenance fee or reward them for spending).
Customer: I need a savings account for my Social Security direct deposit each month and a debit card to take cash out of the ATM. (2 potential solutions)
Well-coached Wells Fargo banker: Ok, here’s what I did for you today: I opened a new Way2Save checking account with a debit card. In order to waive the monthly maintenance fee for the checking account, I opened two additional savings accounts for you. Each month your checking will transfer $25 into your first savings account and your debit card swipes will transfer $1 into your second savings. If you’d like, I can setup a transfer to move the money right back each month. You also have an offer for one of our great rewards cards that not everyone gets. Can I have that sent to you at your home address? (5 potential solutions)
Since my grocery store did not have an endless supply of new customers willing to open multiple products, I was forced to look outside my branch. As I mentioned before, only 1 desk for two bankers meant that I spent half my day in the back of our tiny office making outbound sales calls. Although I worked in San Diego, I was calling people in San Bernardino to sell checking accounts. Eventually, even San Bernardino didn’t have enough customers for me to hit my daily solution goal.
Then I caved. After enough days of not hitting my daily 10 solution goal, I felt like my employment was on the line. I opened a new checking and two savings for my fellow banker and his spouse on a slow day (10 solutions) at the grocery store. On another slow day I opened individual accounts for my Mom and Dad (another 10 solutions). Another slow day meant joint accounts for my parents, then joint accounts for my mom and sister, then joint accounts for my sister and brother, and so on…
And then I discovered the unofficial system behind all the account gaming. Accounts were opened with the minimum required funds and left open for the required 3 months. After the required 3 months, the banker received credit for the account openings. Then immediately funds were transferred out and the accounts closed. After 6 months from the original date of account opening, new accounts could be opened for the same person and the banker would receive full credit. Thus, with a big enough Rolodex of social security numbers, names, and addresses, a banker could continually hit their daily sales goal without ever doing any real banking work.
Additional contrary incentives were present too: credit applications were meaningless when it came to solutions. Only approved credit applications were counted as solutions – so the only way to reliably hit your solution goal was to open deposit products like checking accounts, savings accounts, and debit cards.
By the time I left Wells Fargo, I had up to 70 accounts in my name and my wife’s name. I had about 5 different checking account packages for each family member. Because of the sheer number of bogus accounts, my memory lapsed and I ended up incurring monthly maintenance fees on some of them. It cost me about $100 in fees to close all of the accounts for myself (opened by my fellow banker) and my family.
All of my managers at Wells Fargo were promoted. My fellow bankers and I resigned. During my three-year combined tenure at both locations, I never met a current banker who was promoted vertically. Not surprisingly, I witnessed 100% employment turnover every 6-8 months.
My quickest “solution” to the retail banking hell is to raise interest rates back to a normal historical level. Until then, banks will replace lost loan interest income with $36 overdraft fees, high-pressure sales tactics, no interest on your savings, sheer dishonesty, and eventually, fraud on a massive scale.
Advice for the locals: there is a bank I love on Newport Avenue in OB staffed by locals who know me. I encourage you all to get to know them too.