This content is from the New Orleans CityBusiness article written on September 13, 2016. The sections in bold were quotes given by Metairie Bank’s President and CEO, Ron Samford.
As the embattled Wells Fargo & Co. comes under fire from regulators and the U.S. government, the bank is slicing its product sales goals for retail bankers.
On Monday, Wells Fargo – the largest bank by market value – began telling some employees to discontinue cross-selling products to customers. This comes after the bank was recently fined $185 million for problematic sales tactics.
An impulse to cross-sell various products to specific customers was at the core illegal behavior alleged against the San Francisco-based bank by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Los Angeles city attorney. Wells Fargo employees opened 2 million accounts that customers said they didn’t ask for or didn’t want, the agencies said.
Product sales goals will be removed by Jan. 1, the bank said in a statement. About 5,300 employees at Wells Fargo were terminated in connection with the practices, according to the city attorney’s office.
Pushing product at banks is nothing new. It’s a strategy that is used to bring in revenue.
“Banks have a right to and, as businesses, have to sell bank products,” said Kyle Waters, owner of New Orleans-based Loan Evaluation Services LLC. Bank products may include banking and savings accounts, mortgages, investment products, insurance and pensions.
Considering banks are for-profit businesses, “selling” is not a bad word, said Waters, an adviser to bank executives and boards.
“At issue is how hard should they sell?” he said. “Banks should be held to the same standard, no less but no more than any other business.”
Other banks are undoubtedly watching the events unfold and seeing what precedent this may set for their practices.
Greg Hassel, spokesman for JP Morgan Chase, declined to comment. Pam Girardo, spokeswoman for Capital One, said the bank has controls in place and closely monitors activity across its businesses to ensure that account openings are legitimate.
Meanwhile Regions Bank’s incentive plan is designed to ensure that sales credit is not awarded for selling products or services that customers don’t use.
“We have robust checks and balances in place to deter and detect such activities,” said Evelyn Mitchell, spokeswoman at Regions Bank. “Our incentive plans reward associates for the overall quality and depth of customer relationships as demonstrated by factors such as account balance requirements, card activation and usage.”
Ron Samford, president and CEO of Metairie Bank, said community banks like his have a retail sales reward plan for all employees, both frontline and support personnel.
“Our approach, known as ‘needs-based’ selling, is to identify and fulfill our customer’s banking, insurance and investing needs,” Samford said. “We are never product pushers, trying to sell whatever product might be the flavor of the month, like Wells Fargo and the other megabanks do.”
However, Samford said employees at Metairie Bank can earn additional pay when they meet certain goals, individually and as teams.
“They can be rewarded for a broad range of actions, from updating a customer’s home and email address to referring them to a mortgage lender, insurance representative or investment adviser,” he said. “Because our approach, including extensive and recurring training, is to determine a customer’s financial needs first, on the front end, we are not prone to offering products that they don’t want or need.”
What is being called into question in the Wells Fargo case is the standard of “ethical selling,” Waters said, meaning offering products and services that people should have but also need and want.
“Ethical selling means educating the customer on the benefits, then letting the customer make the decision—no pressure one way or the other,” Waters said.
Wells Fargo has been known for its hard-hitting sales goals for its employees. The Senate Banking Committee has announced a Sept. 20 hearing into the bank’s sales practices