Lessons from Wells Fargo: What Were They Thinking? September 30 2016

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

I had a boss who once told me, "Steve, it can take 10 years to build a good reputation and 10 minutes to lose it."  So true.  Trust, dependability, and consistency have to be demonstrated over time, and it does not take much time for that reputation to be lost.  We have seen an example of this in the news when, about three weeks ago, Wells Fargo announced that a group of its employees had created some 1.5 million bank accounts in customers’ names without them knowing about it.  The motivation was so that the employees could meet their sales goals. Credit cards were also issued without customer authorization.  We are finding out more about this each day.  

On occasion, companies will have a few renegade employees that do harm.  It turned out that this practice was quite widespread in the Wells Fargo corporate structure, and some 5300 employees were dismissed as a result, some fairly, and others possibly unfairly.  Apparently, some of the managers had ways of terminating employees who would not participate in the practice, so the pressure to be part of the scheme was intense.  Wells Fargo had developed over a period of time a reputation of being one of the better banks.  But that reputation was lost overnight.  

This dishonesty was shockingly widespread.  It must have been that there were so many others involved that people convinced themselves it was OK, and the management goals pushed them to do more.  

Incentives and bonuses are common in the business world as a motivation for employees to be productive.  No one is denying the benefits.  But these measures applied without integrity can lead to what we saw with Wells Fargo.  The company expressed regret over the incident, and will pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and likely much more in customer settlements.  But getting their reputation back will take a long time.  

There are many Scriptures that come into play here, but Proverbs 22:1 says it most directly:
“A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold.”  

It can be a tremendous temptation to accept the extra money that can come from engaging in unethical or illegal practices.  For many, unethical behavior is restricted only by the prospect of getting caught.  The fact that it is wrong gets conveniently overlooked.  

Sadly, the world is operating that way more and more.  As Christians, we have a great advantage in knowing to Whom we are ultimately accountable.  We can draw life-changing principles from the Scriptures and have the Holy Spirit to help us understand them.  

But as I Corinthian 10:12 reminds us, “If anyone thinks he stands, take heed that he does not fall.”  We are susceptible to these temptations as well.  We could have been one of the Wells Fargo employees, but for the grace of God.  As Christians, doing what they did would not only impact our own reputation, but even worse, would malign the reputation of the God we represent.  On the other hand, when we live by God’s Word, we also hold high the reputation of God.

“Uncle” Bob Schneider, BCF’s president, has a great real-life illustration of the power of going against the world’s way by following biblical principles.  He was teaching in Brazil about 20 years ago, and one of his students was a coffee grower. The man told Uncle Bob that a lot of the growers greatly under-reported their revenue to try to lower the taxes they paid.  It was almost expected that the coffee-growers in Brazil would cheat on taxes. When this student became a new believer, he decided to no longer under-report the revenue for his business, even though it would put him at a disadvantage..  In fact, his father encouraged him to cheat, lest he go bankrupt. That year, the government surprised coffee growers by providing a large subsidy to help stimulate additional production.  And can you guess what the basis of the subsidy was going to be?  The amount of taxes that had been paid in the past!  In this case, integrity had its earthly reward even beyond this believer’s reputation.

As we know, life doesn’t always turn out this way.  There are times when you do the right thing, and people doing the wrong thing get away with it.  It doesn’t seem fair in an earthly sense.  But if we are ever in a position similar to that of the Wells Fargo employees, it would be well to remember to desire that “good name” of which Proverbs 22:1 speaks.  And with respect to some who might get away with it, Psalm 37:7 reminds us “…do not fret because of him who prospers in his way….” You can be completely at peace knowing that you did what was right in the sight of your heavenly Father, leaving the outcome to Him.  

If you have an example of how God used your integrity as a witness for Him or as an encouragement to others, or if you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org.  You may also subscribe to the blog by emailing that address and put “Subscribe to blog” in the subject line.  If you need general information about BCF, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org.  

Steve Smith