The message to the dozens of Wells Fargo workers gathered for a two-day ethics workshop in San Diego in mid 2014 was loud and clear: Do not create fake bank accounts in the name of unsuspecting clients.
Similar warnings were being relayed from corporate headquarters in San Francisco to regional bankers in Texas, as senior management executives learned that some Wells Fargo employees had been trying to meet sales goals by creating sham bank accounts and credit cards instead of making legitimate sales.
But the bank's efforts were not enough. Three years after the first false accounts were exposed publicly and authorities began investigating, Wells said it was still firing employees over the questionable accounts well into this year.
Some former employees say the explanation is simple: Wells has continued to push the sales goals that caused employees to break the rules in the first place. In fact, the goals at the center of a $185 million civil settlement and investigations by prosecutors in three states are not set to be phased out for three more months.
"They warned us about this type of behavior and said, 'You must report it,' but the reality was that people had to meet their goals," said Khalid Taha, a former Wells Fargo personal banker who resigned in July. "They needed a paycheck."