Only eight percent of Americans trust their financial institution. That was the result of a survey conducted earlier this year by the National Association of Retirement Plan Participants. When I first saw that number, my first reaction was that trust was down to the level of paid employees and blood relatives. Then I recalled that over five percent of Americans work in finance and banking. That means that even they and their own families do not have faith in the country’s financial institutions.
This month, we’ve been reminded of why. Wells Fargo, America’s largest bank, was leveled with the largest fine in the history of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. More than 5,300 employees opened more than two million fake accounts in the name of customers resulting in millions of dollars being stolen from customers in the form of fees on those accounts. The only thing worse than the outrageous fees that banks like Wells Fargo charge their customers is fees on accounts those customers didn’t even open.
The pervasive misdeeds at Wells Fargo are shocking, but this is an occasion that calls for more than throwing darts at one financial institution. Instead, it should be a moment for the financial industry to pause and reflect on how it does business – and how those ways of doing business should fundamentally change.
What happened at Wells Fargo is not a question of a few bad apples. The fact is that 5,300 employees do not each just decide on their own to undertake this kind of massive fraud with no instructions and no one noticing. That’s why the New York Times wrote that the “Wells Fargo scandal may be a sign of a poisonous culture.”
This poisonous culture is not just the problem of Wells Fargo; it pervades too much of the entire financial industry. Too often, America’s biggest financial institutions have put their own profit ahead of serving their customers. They reward their employees based on how much money the bank is making not how much money their customers are making.
The news coverage of the Wells Fargo scandal has been about the bank’s CEO and whether he’ll keep his job, whether government officials in Washington will hold hearings or bring criminal charges, whether bank executives will keep their bonuses, or whether regulatory agencies did their job. But one group has been almost completely overlooked: Wells Fargo’s customers. The amount that was taken from them in false fees may be relatively small and they will be reimbursed. However, while they can be made whole financially, trust – once shattered – is difficult to repair.
We pay a price when we feel we cannot trust our financial institutions – as individuals and as a nation. The costs are all around us in the form of low levels of asset building and millions of Americans sitting on the sidelines of financial services.
That’s why we created Aspiration and why we “solve for trust” in everything we do. Why is Aspiration so different? It’s because we are a financial firm where the incentives are not in place to make money for the company but to make a difference for our customers. The only money we make from our customers are the Pay What Is Fair fees they choose to pay us. If our customers don’t like what we’re doing or what they’re getting, they can pay us zero at any time.
That means our job is not to wring fees out of our customers or sell them lousy financial products, it’s to make our customers so happy and delighted that they choose to pay Aspiration even when they don’t have to. And the good news is that the vast majority of Aspiration customers choose to pay a fee for their Aspiration accounts.
Because of this, we have a very different culture – one where the customer is at the center of everything we do.
You can see it in our products. When we created our Aspiration Summit checking account we built what Money magazine named the “Best Checking Account in America” because it offers up to 100 times higher interest rate and none of the ATM fees found in big bank accounts like Wells Fargo’s Preferred Checking.
So if you’re a Wells Fargo customer, or even the blood relative of a Wells Fargo employee, make a switch to trust with Aspiration. You’ll get a much better checking account – and peace of mind in banking with a financial firm that puts its customers first.