There is no denying that the recent Wells Fargo saga created a perfect storm for media traffic, political sound bites and passionate punditry. But as the story has played out, Wells' problem has been misdiagnosed.
People have been quick to blame a "sales culture" for the reason why employees at the bank did improper things. However, blaming sales cultures and incentive compensation for fraudulent behavior is like blaming automobiles for reckless drivers. You punish reckless drivers. You don't outlaw automobiles.
If banks have the knee-jerk reaction to this episode of gutting their sales and cross-sales-focused cultures, it would ultimately harm the futures of good and productive bank employees and the industry in general. This is especially true since the negative narratives that have taken up all of the oxygen through several news cycles will not linger as long as many think. Our society's attention deficit is only one of the reasons.
Most people realize that any business (or government agency) that employs humans will always be vulnerable to unethical behavior. People of all business, financial, religious and social strata have free will and do not always make the best, or even appropriate, choices.
But a simpler reason the negative narrative will not last is that banks are ethical enterprises. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the public innately knows that to be true.
The banking industry tends to perform rather poorly in the public relations arena. It does far better, however, in the customer relations arena. Bankers help exponentially more people each year than are ever harmed by banks' actions.
Banks are some of the most dependable and accountable service providers that customers rely on each day. Bankers also provide the financing and support services for businesses and entrepreneurs across the country.
When banks discover misdeeds in their own houses, they are far more likely to call a foul on themselves compared to most other industries. In a trust-based industry like banking, unprincipled behavior simply does not stand the test of time.
It is not because of regulations that bankers behave ethically. Rather, they act ethically because the success of the industry and individual careers are tied to doing the right thing for customers and communities. Doing honest business is good business.
One of the more motivating things I've experienced over two-plus decades in banking has been witnessing the many individuals I have met in the field go from sometimes humble beginnings to great professional success. Through their banking careers, hardworking and dedicated people have transformed their lives and their families' lives.
These bankers are from all ethnicities and backgrounds. However, the shared qualities that almost all of these people have are the drive and talents to grow whatever business or portion of a business that has been entrusted to them.
"Growing your business" is a slightly longer way of saying "selling." Our more competent bankers tend to be our better salespeople. They have the ability to identify customers' needs and provide clarity and support in often confusing and intimidating circumstances. Better bankers therefore have better products to offer.
These successful salespeople and sales managers do not owe their success to dishonest or unethical tactics. They are successful because they are good at helping people find, understand and utilize products and services that make their lives simpler, more productive and secure.
Nature rewards hard workers – those who are driven and the productive. Successful businesses do as well. People who hone their abilities to make other people want to do business with them become highly valued by companies – affording themselves greater career opportunities and better choices in life.
The suggestion that sales cultures or even cross-sales cultures are antithetical to a trusted, honest industry is deeply flawed. Our most productive people shake more hands, visit more businesses, are active in more civic organizations and simply help more people than their peers. Because of this, they deal with more morale-dinging, energy-sapping rejection than less engaged employees do. That is part of the price they are willing to pay for success.
Well-run companies reward their top producers for the effort it takes to become top producers. Companies that stop incenting superior performers and performances will have less of both in the future.
There is little doubt the recent Wells Fargo saga will be one that bankers take lessons from for years to come. For the sake of our businesses and our existing (and future) top producers, let us make sure the lessons we take are the proper ones.
Dave Martin is the founder of the retail bank performance company bankmechanics. He can be reached at email@example.com.