Since Wells Fargo’s practice of opening bogus accounts in customers’ names was first exposed, reports of the boiler room-like sales culture that led to the scheme have leaked out of the bank. In recent weeks, that trickle has turned into a flood as more and more bankers have come forward, including one former employee who says she drank “at least a bottle” of hand sanitizer each day to deal with the pressure.
Among other unethical practices, former banker Angie Payden claims she was forced to sell customers unnecessary financial products she knew they couldn’t afford and coerce them into opening new accounts by claiming old ones had been compromised. Eventually, Payden says, she could no longer take the periodic panic attacks and “extreme physical stress-related symptoms” of her job. From The New York Times:
One morning, before meeting with a customer, in which I knew I was going to have to sell unneeded services, I had a severe panic attack. I went to the bathroom and took a drink of some hand sanitizer.
This immediately reduced my anxiety. From that point, I began drinking the hand sanitizer all over the bank.
In late November 2012, I was completely addicted to hand sanitizer and drinking at least a bottle a day during my workday. In December, I was confronted by management about my behavior. I decided to seek treatment and went on leave.
While Payden’s experience serves an extreme example of the effect Wells Fargo’s sales tactics had on employees, her anguish was hardly unique. Other former bankers report insomnia, nausea, panic attacks and even a case of shingles that developed due to the stress of the job.
According to one employee who claims to have worked at a San Francisco branch just blocks away from Wells Fargo headquarters and former CEO John Stumpf, pressure from management made her so ill she once vomited under her desk, but even an attempted bank robbery wasn’t enough to stop the constant call to “dial for dollars.”
“Cops were swarming. They shut everything down. You know, public couldn’t come in,” Ashley, who only wanted to use her first name, told NPR’s Planet Money. “And it’s like how am I supposed to be on the phone with a client and hold a conversation and try to sell him a checking account when you’ve got freaking a million cops in our lobby being loud and noisy? And then it smelled like crap because the [attempted robber] crapped his pants.”