In 1989 at the age of seven, my father and I opened my first bank account at a Wachovia branch in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a family joke to pronounce the Charlotte-based regional bank’s name, “wa-chov-ia.” Barbara*, the employee who opened my account that day also helped my parents with their mortgage and later my brother and sister open their first accounts.
At the time a regional bank, our Wachovia branch felt more like a local bank invested in the local community. As my siblings and I grew up and moved away, Wachovia grew with us, and when they couldn’t, made us feel valued as customers. When I moved to New York after college, the nearest Wachovia ATM was several hundred miles away. With a quick call to customer service, the bank offered to cover my monthly ATM fees. Two years later Wachovia expanded into the city.
When visiting Raleigh I’d swing by the bank to deposit a check or discuss perhaps buying a home of my own, and Barbara would be there to talk about my goals and financial future. Wachovia had been acquired by less-than-savoury FirstUnion in 2001 who made some very poor choices leading up the the financial crisis, but I banked there because I felt valued as a customer, not because it was necessarily the easiest or cheapest.
By the end of the financial crisis, Wachovia had been acquired by Wells Fargo, a historically west coast bank interested in expanding nationwide. Wells Fargo also had a reputation for its sales culture, with its CEO encouraging employees to open as many accounts as possible for each customer because “eight rhymes with great.”
You can probably begin to imagine where this story is headed: by 2011, all Wachovia branches had been closed or converted. My dad reported that the last time he’d met with Barbara she seemed unhappy, and sure enough she left the bank shortly thereafter. My free checking account suddenly became loaded with fees, when calling for help I had to wait on hold for longer and longer, and employees seemed more interested in opening a line of credit for me than solving my problems.
This all seemed like the cost of doing business. Wells Fargo is a business after all, and I still wanted to support those local employees doing their best for their customers and contributing to US’s climb out of the Great Recession… until I started reading headlines like this:
And just last month the Federal Reserve announced unprecedented punishment for defrauding customers.
In summary, Wells Fargo pressured its employees into opening millions of fake customer accounts; gave the executive responsible a massive golden parachute; and continues to punish whistleblowers, shred incriminating paperwork, and charge recipients of mortgages bogus fees. And about these whistleblowers: Wells Fargo also made sure they could never get another job in the financial industry.
Now when I’m forced to click “No Thanks” when offered a new financial product every time I log into wellsfargo.com, have to ignore the multiple upsell offers littered throughout the mobile app, or sit on hold for ten minutes with a simple request, I’m more than a bit annoyed.
And so I’m ending my 29 year relationship with Wells Fargo/Wachovia. I was willing to overlook bad customer experience and poor application design for the loyalty they’d earned over most of my lifetime. But at this point it’s painfully obvious that Wells Fargo doesn’t care about its customers, or for that matter prioritize security, shareholders, or its own employees.
I’m admittedly a bit sad to leave and cut up my “Customer Since 1989” card, but I am excited to join a bank that actually wants my business. And hey, they’ve got a pretty good app too.
*Due to Wells Fargo’s documented retaliation against former employees, I’ve changed some details about this employee.
In the days between writing this and finally closing my accounts, I was assessed $51 in bogus fees I was able to successfully have reversed. One last headache from my former bank.
This was also posted on LinkedIn as, “Ending my 29-year relationship with my bank because of its unethical behavior.”