The Wells Fargo Culture Problem

photo by Gabriella Demczuk for the New York Times

photo by Gabriella Demczuk for the New York Times

The Wells Fargo Bank scandal of opening millions of secret accounts without customers’ permission is an issue of culture. 

Within the financial services industry, the retail business of Wells Fargo was always admired and in many ways was viewed as the gold standard because of their profitability. Much of that profitability had to do with retention of their clients and the income generated from the multiple accounts their customers had with the bank.  It’s a no-brainer, the more products and services you have with a bank, or for that matter, almost any company, correlates directly to more revenue.

Yes, what they did was not only wrong, but illegal. We’ll let the federal government and the mass of regulators and lawyers figure out what to do with that. The fundamental issue is that their pursuit of profits outweighs their values. And it’s how well a company lives up to its values that determines the culture. 

Doing what’s right for the customer, is a core value of Wells Fargo (as found in their Vision & Values brochure). Specifically stating, “One of our top priorities is protecting customers’ confidential data and information. Customers trust us to use that information to provide them with products and services that can save them time and money. They expect us to help guide them, help grow and protect their financial assets, and help them succeed financially. Our focus on customers is unwavering. That is how we have been doing business for more than 160 years and is the key to our future.”

When a company’s values, mission, or vision statement, are just words and not lived and followed, the result is what happened here. The brand is weakened. Do you remember Enron? They had awesome values. Unfortunately, they were also just words. Additionally, the entire banking industry will suffer a bit from the increased lack of trust many customers feel when they think of banks.

For a bank to be making money is not a bad thing. I hope they continue to do so and do it well. The ability to deposit a check from your phone, travel to another part of the world and get cash out of an ATM, and other services we may now take for granted are impressive. It also costs a lot to develop and support these services. However, customers are only willing to pay for them if they see the value and if they know the bank is watching out for them. Though – they have to make that decision, the bank cannot make it for them. 

What Wells Fargo forgot is that they do not define their brand nor do they determine who chooses to do business with them. A company’s brand is what their customers say it is. The brand is not only the products and services a company provides, but how well they actually live up to the standards they promote.

It's Strategic Planning Season! Are You Ready?

An effective strategic plan is a critical component to running a successful organization, yet only few companies do it well.

According to a study by Bain, they asked nearly 300 global executives to rate their company’s planning process, and only one in three said that the strategy was effective. 


You may be already swimming in a sea of data, PowerPoints, and debates on whether a stacked bar chart or an exploding pie chart is the best way to tell the story.  Good strategic planning is a methodical process.  However, it's important to keep the objective in mind and not get lost in the process of planning.

5 guidelines for effective strategic planning:

1.      Align with the mission and vision of the company.  This not only helps keep your organization's brand authentic, it also serves as a guide when making decisions.

2.     Make strategic planning an important ongoing process, with continual process improvement, regularly managed throughout the year, and not an annual ritual that is part of a corporate to-do list.

3.     Have clear objectives.  Objectives that are quantifiable so everyone knows what they are aiming for and a way to be able to measure progress.  Tactics follow strategy.  

4.     Update your insights. Your company does not live in a bubble, everything around the company; your customers, competition, the regulatory environment, and many other factors are continually changing.

5.     Don’t isolate the process by managing and making decisions solely on a select group of c-suite executives that push down a plan through the organization.  A strong strategic plan incorporates the views of the customer as well as employees who will be executing the plan. 

Elevate your strategic planning from an annual exercise into an integrated part of your company’s business management process. Take into consideration the voice of your customers, the perspective of your employees, and the insights from market research.  This could be the difference between an acceptable strategic plan vs. one that is inspirational, guiding, and effectively defines how the entire organization will work together to achieve your objectives.