You could engage in a lot of hyperbole to describe the level of the mess at Wells Fargo and still be hard-pressed to overstate the absolute PR disaster new CEO Tim Sloan walked into when he took the helm of one of America’s most powerful banks. Thousands fired, millions of customers enraged, the rest of the country shaking their heads in collective disbelief. So, you might be forgiven for rolling your eyes when you hear Sloan describe Wells Fargo as the “best corporate citizen.”
But, if you take the time to hear him out, you might come away with the impression of a CEO who knows what he’s about, a guy into speaking aspirationally, who also has the will and nerve to turn his vision into reality. There’s no doubt that turning Wells Fargo into the nation’s best business, for customers, and for the country, is a worthy goal, and it would certainly be a major accomplishment … but what, exactly, is Sloan really talking about.
In an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Sloan laid that vision out, as well as why he thinks his company is already on that path:
“We want to be the best corporate citizen. I think we’re already number one there, to be honest with you…(we are working to) make every community in which we live and do business better.”
Sloan, then, is talking about Wells Fargo’s nonprofit community work, including the fact that the company recently donated more than $280 million to nearly 15,000 nonprofits last year, which placed the company at number three among all U.S. companies … and number one among financial services in 2015 … in charitable giving.
So, by that measure, Wells Fargo is doing some good. But does that really measure up to Sloan’s big talk? According to current public opinion? No. Banking regulators recently released a list of “misconduct” committed by the bank in the past few years. Several media outlets published the list, which included such examples as illegally repossessing vehicles, intentionally pushing minority buyers into more expensive loans than white borrowers, allegations of discrimination … and, remember those repossessed vehicles? Some of them were taken from active duty service members — once again illegally.
Regulators describe Wells Fargo’s violations as “extensive and pervasive” adding that the company’s credit practices were “discriminatory and illegal” as well as “egregious.”
What was Sloan’s take on these comments? He said he was “disappointed,” and added that the company “made mistakes” and was working on fixing them. So, what do you think? Do you agree with Sloan that Wells Fargo is a model corporate citizen, or do they still have some work to do to get back in the country’s good graces?