Today, Prudential Financial announced it would suspend the distribution of a low-cost life insurance policy through Wells Fargo. The low-cost life insurance policy, called MyTerm, had been promoted by Wells Fargo since 2014 throughout its large number of retail banking outlets.
The suspension comes shortly after a wrongful termination lawsuit was filed by three former Prudential employees, which alleged that Wells Fargo employees signed up customers for MyTerm life insurance policies without the customer’s knowledge to hit sales goals. The plaintiffs, who worked at Prudential’s corporate investigations division, claim their reports of the fraud led to their termination because Prudential management did not want to take any action that could damage its business with Wells Fargo.
If true, those allegations would fit an already established pattern of Wells Fargo employees creating fake customer checking, saving, and credit card accounts. The resulting scandal from those revelations led to Wells Fargo being fined $185 million and the resignation of the CEO, John Stumpf.
Wells Fargo is already facing a new investigation by the SEC concerning whether the bank made proper disclosures to investors. It’s not clear if the company disclosed the nature of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission investigation and others that led to $185 million in fines, or whether the company knowingly transmitted false sales numbers based on the gains from fake accounts.
Though it is hard to quantify, Wells Fargo’s name, reputation, and brand have been undeniably damaged. After the publicity of the congressional hearings, it is likely that many potential customers will not use the bank’s services. Customers whose names were used to open fake accounts will probably never bank with Wells Fargo again. In fact, some of them are suing.
That’s all before whatever further damage is done by the more recent accusations about the fake life insurance accounts from Prudential.
Hopefully not lost in all this is that the initial plan by Wells Fargo executives was to scapegoat low-level employees for this entire scandal. Despite creating the “cross-selling” program, which forced employees to aggressively try to open new accounts and even firing those that did not or complained about it, Wells Fargo upper management initially took no responsibility for the fake account scandal.
In all, over 5,000 low-level employees have been terminated and are likely never going to work in banking again, while the CEO and the executive responsible for managing the program, Carrie Tolstedt, will walk away with millions upon millions of dollars.
With those incentives in place, the real strategy for corporate criminals is going to be, if you want to break the law, make sure you get promoted first.