Celia Rivenbark

Re-building a bank’s trust | From the Belle Tower

I’m old enough to remember a time when you opened a checking account and the bank gave you a gift to show their appreciation for your business. It was usually a set of gold-rimmed juice glasses, an electric blanket or maybe a toaster.

More recently, Duh Hubby and I were rewarded with a free “weather radio” for taking out an equity line at our bank. The staff gathered around for the presentation and I was halfway expecting somebody to toss confetti in the air like they did at the orthodontist when the Princess got her braces off. It was a throwback to the days of genuine customer appreciation, positively quaint.

It was almost as quaint as embattled Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf’s remarks to bank customers, which are, shockingly, still up on the company’s website. Take a gander.

“Everything we do is built on trust. It doesn’t happen with one transaction in one day on the job…it’s earned relationship by relationship.”

Man, that’s beautiful. The sort of thing that would bring a tear to a glass eye. It sounds positively noble, all that relationship building. Except for the fact that only Wells Fargo was in on the “relationship” because 2 million fake bank accounts and credit cards were set up in clients’ names without their permission. I realize Stumpf isn’t an English major, or possibly even a human being, but relationships take two parties, unless one of you is inflatable.

This is how you build relationships? By defrauding and cheating? Stumpf is like a bad Tinder date. You swiped right and here you sit on a Tuesday night at Dave & Buster’s and he’s nothing like that buff guy in the mirror selfie. Plus, well, knuckle hair.

You betcha trust doesn’t happen with one transaction in one day on the job…it took several years to create such grand scale fraud that customers were billed $2.6 million in fees for accounts they knew nothing about. Also, not to quibble, not a single electric blanket.

Stumpf, whose personal wealth grew by $200 million because of all those new accounts that didn’t technically exist, isn’t any different from that annoying telemarketer who calls me twice a week to say the IRS is going to take all my money away unless I send him a Target gift card for $3,000. Sure, that makes sense. At least with the telemarketing crook, we both know he has the morals of plankton.

In Stumpf’s gooey website message to customers, he reminds them other banks just have a mission statement but Wells Fargo has a “vision and values document.” Feel better yet?

It shouldn’t concern anyone that Carrie Tolstedt, who was in charge of the division that did the worst of it, just retired with a $124.6 million attagirl in stock and options. Stumpf, always one to tug at the old heartstrings, described her as “a standard bearer of our culture.” At last. Even though it was probably accidental, Stumpf finally told the truth.

Celia Rivenbark is the New York Times best-selling author of “Rude B****** Make Me Tired.” Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.