A prominent bank returning to the well of controversy

Wells Fargo has been in a continuing state of damage control since unethical account opening practices garnered attention in 2013. The Los Angeles Times uncovered an aggressive sales culture that undermined employee morale and resulted in unethical tactics, customer complaints and labor lawsuits.

The fallout over the allegations saw high-level leadership leave the company under clouds of scandal. The most recent removals occurred in February with four executives losing their jobs.

Just as the public relations waters seemed to be calming, another storm has hit. On May 3, yet another lawsuit joined the litany of continuing legal actions. A Wells Fargo shareholder claims that the bank’s employees took advantage of undocumented immigrants by targeting them as customers.

In what the company referred to as “Hit the Streets Thursday,” Latino bankers and tellers would leave the confines of their workplace. They would survey the streets, visit Social Security offices, and show up to construction sites and factories.

Their mission was simple: open new accounts. Their literal target market was singular: undocumented immigrants.

Upon identifying prospects, Wells Fargo staff would return to the bank and convince them to open as many accounts and features as they could. Sales pitches promised the waiver of check-cashing fees and financial incentives to join the bank.

Each new account equaled a sale. Each sale equaled a more secure future for employees working for Wells Fargo.

Sworn statements from ex-staff members revealed that former managers, personal bankers and tellers felt forced to employ unethical and potentially illegal tactics. With daily goals that were nothing close to realistic, many employees resorted to creating fake bank accounts with equally fictitious names and opening multiple accounts for customers without authorization.

Those who reported the questionable practices were allegedly fired.

What started out as ethical sales strategies devolved into acts of fraud that seems to be no stranger to Wells Fargo.

Once again, a banking giant may have gone to the well one too many times.

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