Wells Fargo: How Far Will They Go?

4th November 2019

Yasmin Fisher

In 2011, another case of fraud came to light – this scandal implicated Wells Fargo and its cross-selling practices. The cause was attributed to the high-pressure sales company-culture, which resulted in the opening of millions of unauthorized “ghost” accounts. However, this is not simply a story about an orchestrated scam but a story which questions the degree of accountability which organizations should be held to, in terms of illegal and immoral activity?

So, here we are, eight years and four CEOs later, and the question is: have measures to prevent reoccurrences been taken? And has fair compensation been achieved? Well, the simple answer would be not really – as the criminal investigation is still on-going, with substantial media coverage of Senator Elizabeth Warren putting up a fight. Although, sanctions have been put in place, and CEOs and other executive employees have been swapped out, Wells Fargo continues to be associated with fraudulent activities past its initial exposure in 2011.

Cleary, the change of leadership and tweaking of company culture has not done the trick – suggesting that it is the company’s DNA which is deeply flawed and operating as a catalyst to the criminal behaviour. So, are we right in prosecuting John Stumpf and Carrie Tolstedt? An Organic View would suggest – not entirely. This philosophical, and perhaps slightly more complex view goes as far to consider Wells Fargo – the organization itself – as an individual, person or member. In doing so, it would seem appropriate to hold Wells Fargo itself accountable for its complicity.

Let’s extend this philosophical thought even further with the following questions: when a member of society breaks the law (which has been built to reflect societal morals) at what point is this member removed from society and sent to prison, rehab, or any other disciplinary institution? Well, it is rational to say that the severity of the act and the individual’s past record would both be taken into consideration. So, let’s apply this to a popular member of society – Wells Fargo. With the same logic, I ask: at what point should Wells Fargo be removed from society due to their repeated infraction of the law, namely, when is a change of ownership, acquisition or forced bankruptcy appropriate?

With this understanding, applying criminal law directly to Wells Fargo as an entity, seems far overdue. The resolving of this legal gap would not only allow for a quicker prosecution, but an accurate one – punishing the right individual i.e. the flawed organization!

So, what’s the prescription? Wells Fargo’s presence in society needs to be reconfigured. It should not continue operating under the Wells Fargo name nor culture – it should either be dissolved or broken up and acquired by another entity. For the same reason that when a member of society is causing extensive disturbance, that member is generally removed from this troublesome setting in an attempt to rectify and guide future moral and legal behavior in a new environment.

References

Wolf, S. (1985). The Legal and Moral Responsibility of Organisations. American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy, 27, pp.267-286.

YouTube. (2016). Senator Elizabeth Warren questions Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf at Banking Committee Hearing. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJhkX74D10M [Accessed 3 Nov. 2019].