Wells Fargo’s vision and values led to its downfall

Photos: AP

Visions statements inspire. Wells Fargo’s inspired fraud. A close read of the company’s Vision & Values Statement reveals how the bank’s employees took some of the statements in this vision too far, ignored others, and created a corrupt scheme to meet quotas and violate customers’ trust.

Elizabeth Warren mentioned the Vision & Values Statement during her withering cross-examination of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. It’s a detailed 10,000-word document. And you can see the roots of the current scandal right in the vision statement.

Vision statements and metrics, taken to extremes, can drive unethical behavior

Let’s take a look at what’s in there. Bold type and translation are mine, italics reflects emphasis in the original. Some boring parts omitted.

wells-fargo-vision-and-valuesOur vision

Our vision is: “We want to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially.”

Our vision of financially successful customers is based on a simple premise: We believe customers across all business segments can be better served, and save time and money, if they bring their financial services to one trusted provider that knows them well, provides reliable guidance and advice, and can serve their full range of financial needs through a wide choice of products and services.

Translation: We’re got so many products, we want all of your business. We’ll give you service you didn’t even realize you needed, without even telling you!

[O]ur own customers still give a significant amount of their financial business to our competitors. Our job — central to our vision — is to make it easy for them to bring more of their business to us so we can satisfy their financial needs.

Translation: Workers who don’t squeeze customers into every possible product we have are failures, and will not receive bonuses.

Our vision has nothing to do with transactions, pushing products, or getting bigger for the sake of bigness. It’s about building lifelong relationships one customer at a time.

Translation: Transactions, pushing products, and getting bigger for the sake of bigness aren’t our vision — they’re just how we do our jobs every day.

The reason we wake up in the morning is to help our customers succeed financially and to satisfy their financial needs, and the result is that we make money. It’s never the other way around. Our time-tested vision will forever be what matters to Wells Fargo. We’ll never put the stagecoach ahead of the horses.

Translation: We just checked, and 5,300 employees put the stagecoach first and made 2 million fake accounts. They must have skipped this part.

Our values

Our values should guide every conversation, decision, and interaction. Our values should anchor every product and service we provide and every channel we operate. If we can’t link what we do to one of our values, we should ask ourselves why we’re doing it. It’s that simple.

Translation: Values are great. It’s putting them into practice that’s tricky.

Our culture is about plural pronouns — we, us, and ours — instead of I, me, and mine. The star of the team is the team; we win by playing “us” ball.

Translation: We’ll whip you into shape and drive you so hard that you’ll break rules to meet quotas. And when you get caught, we’ll fire you, and then proudly testify in front of Congress that it was your fault.

Some people say loyalty to a company is a thing of the past. We don’t believe that. People naturally aspire to a larger purpose beyond themselves. They want to believe in their company and the good it can do. Don’t we all?

Translation: Some people say loyalty to employees is a thing of the past. They’re right, it is. Except for our loyalty to senior executives, who get to retire and keep their bonuses even when they preside over fraud.


We strive to be recognized by our stakeholders as setting the standard among the world’s great companies for integrity and principled performance. This is more than just doing the right thing. We also have to do it in the right way.

Translation: We’ll try not to get caught.

Honesty, trust, and integrity are essential for meeting the highest standards of corporate governance. They’re not just the responsibility of our senior leaders and our board of directors. We’re all responsible.

Translation: If you get caught, we’ll fire you. If we preside over a corrupt system of incentives, it’s still your fault, not ours.

Our ethics are the sum of all the decisions each of us makes every day. If you want to find out how strong a company’s ethics are, don’t listen to what its people say. Watch what they do. This is even more important in our industry because everything we do is built on trust.

Translation: I guess you know how strong our ethics are now. [Note: This is the statement Elizabeth Warren used to rake the CEO Stumpf over the coals.]

We have to earn that trust every day by behaving ethically; rewarding open, honest, two-way communication; and holding ourselves accountable for the decisions we make and the actions we take.

Translation: I’m sorry, did you say open, honest, two-way communication? Was that supposed to include telling you when we opened accounts using your name?

One of our top priorities is protecting customers’ confidential data and information. Customers trust us to use that information to provide them with products and services that can save them time and money. . . . Our focus on customers is unwavering. That is how we have been doing business for more than 160 years and is the key to our future.

Translation: We’re going to work on this, starting tomorrow.


Leaders are accountable. They share the credit and shoulder the blame. They give others the responsibility and opportunity for success. Good leaders inspire teams to have confidence in their leadership; great leaders inspire team members to have confidence in themselves.

Translation: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Taken on its own, Wells Fargo’s Vision and Values statement is a masterpiece. Sure, it’s vague and hard to pin down, but it’s inspiring and inclusive. But it’s also clear that taking some of these values too far — and ignoring others — is how the company ended up at the bottom of this crevasse.

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One Comment

  1. I am sort of surprised that you bothered dissecting a vision and values statement for bullshit. That’s sort of like testing a piece of coal for traces of carbon.
    The only mission statement I ever heard that sounded like it wasn’t bullshit was “don’t be evil”– and that too leaves a lot of wiggle room.