It was a form of identity theft. But not by some shadowy figure in Nigeria. It was by a name-brand bank and trust.
To artificially inflate sales goals and make more money and bonuses, employees at Wells Fargo created fake accounts under existing customers’ names – and, adding insult to injury, charged the unknowing, unwilling customers extra fees for the ghost accounts.
Reports indicate the bank has fired 5,300 employees caught up in the scandal.
“The scope of the scandal is shocking,” writes CNNMoney.com. “An analysis conducted by a consulting firm hired by Wells Fargo concluded that bank employees opened over 1.5 million deposit accounts that may not have been authorized.
“The way it worked was that employees moved funds from customers’ existing accounts into newly-created ones without their knowledge or consent, regulators say. ... Customers were being charged for insufficient funds or overdraft fees – because there wasn’t enough money in their original accounts.
“Additionally, Wells Fargo employees also submitted applications for 565,443 credit card accounts without their customers’ knowledge or consent. Roughly 14,000 of those accounts incurred over $400,000 in fees, including annual fees, interest charges and overdraft-protection fees.”
To identify theft, add malfeasance. Misappropriation of funds.
Outside the buttoned-down, have-a-nice-day world of banking, that’s called a criminal conspiracy. How could so many people acquiesce to something so plainly wrong?
Many words might explain it. Greed. Wanton selfishness. Shortsightedness. Corruption. A sick corporate culture. Simple ethics – or the lack of it.
For Lee Ellis, though, it comes down to one word: courage. Someone in that vast conspiracy needed to have the courage not just to say no, but to speak out and shut it down.
A retired Air Force colonel and five-year Vietnam prisoner of war, Ellis knows something about personal courage.
Ellis and his compatriots were subjected to inhumane living conditions, years of solitary confinement without human interaction, and years of torture at the so-called Hanoi Hilton. Yet only a very few of the prisoners broke and gave their captors any information of value. One hero, Rear Adm. Jeremiah Denton – who endured nearly eight years as a POW – was once pulled into a propaganda press conference by his captors and managed to sneak out a message to the world: He blinked his eyes in Morse code to spell the word “torture” – alerting U.S. officials to the prisoners’ plight.
Nor was the courage limited to the prisoners: Speaking to the Society of Human Resources Management’s Georgia State Council Conference in Augusta this past week, Ellis recalled the fortitude not just of fellow prisoner Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale – a POW for over seven years and later a vice presidential candidate – but also of his wife: Fed up with a national policy that held POWs’ wives should not speak publicly, Sybil Stockdale co-founded the National League of POW/MIA Families, spoke out, and even pressed President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in a White House meeting to, themselves, speak out against the treatment of
our prisoners by North Vietnam.
Ultimately, the torture did stop, Ellis said.
How could someone endure so much?
By keeping faith, Ellis said. Keeping faith with themselves, their mates, their country and their God. And by keeping this goal firmly in mind every day: to return home with honor.
It came down to character, courage and commitment, he said – the same traits and attributes any leader in any position must exhibit.
Frankly, it must be a different kind of torture for Ellis – today a well-traveled, oft-spoken leadership consultant – to see some of the cowardice, weakness and lack of honor he must run into in some sectors of corporate America. He sees it in Washington too, where everyone seems to be out for himself or herself.
Where is the honor? Where is the commitment?
Our POWs endured more pain, heartache and deprivation than most of us will ever even read about.
The least we can do is try to show a fraction of their faith and honor in our infinitely more comfortable daily lives.