Wells Fargo, Game of (Very Dumb) Thrones

October 10, 2016 Originally published on SFGate

I opened my first Wells Fargo account at the main Hollywood branch in LA, the one on Sunset Boulevard – 6320 W. Sunset, to be exact, which I know because it’s still printed right there on my checks, all these years later, for no reason I can quite discern – sometime in the late ‘80s, just a few blocks from my dingy rock n’ roll apartment on Wilcox and Delongpre and well before the existence of ATMs and Apple Pay and ginormous bank scandals that infuriated a nation and caused Elizabeth Warren to spit awesome, glorious fire.

Far as I can tell – which, admittedly, isn’t all that far – Wells has more or less done right by me over the years, all things considered and who can really say because, well, it’s a massive financial institution. While my experience has been pleasant overall, I also have zero doubt they’ve dinged me for roughly one million tiny fees and hidden costs over the years, likely to the tune of many thousands of accumulated dollars, because that’s just how banks roll. Casually screwing you over is what they do.

Then again, my ATMs nearly always work, and Wells’ customer service has always been friendly and responsive, and the sweet young tellers at the Castro branch I almost never visit for my banking these days simply could not be kinder and more willing to help. I’ve had no reason to worry.

But maybe it’s all been an illusion? Maybe I’ve been screwed over far more brutally than I realize? Hell, the state of California sure thinks so.

The face of sad, bland, corporate… not really *evil* per se. More like… tepid immorality? Rich white male indifference?

The face of sad, bland, corporate… not really *evil* per se. More like… tepid immorality? Rich white male indifference?

It’s hard not to agree, watching the classic archetype of entitled rich whiteman flesh known as Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf blink like a stuck bug in the face of ongoing, harsh congressional investigation, as his company is revealed to have reamed upwards of two million unsuspecting customers just like me over many years, opening thousands of bogus accounts without their permission and charging nonsense fees and raking in millions until they were caught a few years ago, thus engendering a feeling similar to what I experienced when I learned my childhood Boy Scout leader in Spokane turned out, many years later, to be a bit of a closet pedophile. Wait, what? Am I remembering that time correctly? Do I need therapy?

I mean, good God, here is this sloppily wealthy, over-pampered male who graduated in the bottom half of his high school class and attended mediocre business schools (thanks, Wikipedia!) who somehow powered his way into the upper echelons of the financial world, now raking in tens (nay, hundreds) of millions in annual bonuses while casually screwing over thousands of employees and customers alike, all in the numbly patriarchal, screw-the-lower-classes mold, as 5,000 lower-tier employees were fired for the scandal, but not a single member of the executive team.

Stumpf merely followed in the footsteps of Carrie Tolstedt, head of Wells regional banking, who surely helped orchestrate the nefarious fake-account scheme and who skulked away from the company a year ago with a $91 mil exit package ($40 mil which might have to be paid back, poor thing) and a nasty conscience that should be slapped with 10,000 open palms of moral revulsion.

It’s just dumbly exasperating, socially and personally. As in: I have to worry about this crap now? Do I need to change banks after all these years? Upheave all my financial data and switch all my accounts to a new bank and undergo a massive goddamn hassle, all because yet another major American institution I’m supposed to be able to trust implicitly and never worry about – i.e.; banking, food, government, automotive, chemical, water supply, tech – has been screwing me over and/or endangering my life, for years?

Then, the follow-up question: Will it make any difference? Aren’t the distended C-suite drones over at BofA exactly the same as Stumpf’s offensive crew? And Chase? CitiGroup? And all the rest? Are they not more or less interchangeable, all dining at the same extortionate NY/DC steakhouses and swapping trophy wives with their lizard-skinned Wall Street cronies and feasting on the unsuspecting carcasses of regular customers, chortling wildly and sucking all the joy out of life?

Is that too harsh? Maybe. Word has it Stumpf will now return something like $45 million of his massive bonus, which is a lot – but also not really, given that it only amounts to a mere 25 or 30 percent of his annual take, an amount which, for execs like him, merely translates into holding off on having new toilet seats made out of endangered rhino horn for his Lear Jet for a few more months.

It all reveals one thing, above all: national banking is one of the few massive, archaic, cloistered, astonishingly murky industries (like the car biz, and food production, et al) hugely ripe for disruption and radical overhaul.

Which is to say: My eternal devotion – and all my accounts – to the visionary financial/tech whiz who utterly reinvents banking and personal finance, rips it from the claws of rich white inbred bankers and turns it into a free-flowing, self-correcting, corruption-proof system – maybe a non-profit? – free of scam and scandal. Not a credit union. Something… better.

Yeah, I know. Good luck with that. Not when the system is so entrenched, the politicians are all pals with the bankers and all the rich SiliValley frat boy “entrepreneurs” are little different than Wall Street wretches, wasting their days and their pampered Stanford brains inventing gratuitous nonsense like cupcake delivery apps and video-camera “spectacles” that let you post more vacuous pap to SnapChat.

But, as the tables are turned for a few precious moments, as the rich male patriarchy squirms and blinks in (maddeningly modest) pain, it sure is nice to dream.

Read more here:: Wells Fargo, Game of (Very Dumb) Thrones

Mark Morford

About Mark Morford