Business Podcast – “Listen to Lucy” Wells Fargo’


In September 2016, Wells Fargo bank was issued (fue penalizada con) a combined total of $185 million in fines (multas) for creating over 1.5 million checking and savings accounts (cuentas corrientes o de ahorros) and 500,000 credit cards that its customers never authorized.

The scandal was caused by an incentive-compensation program (compensación por medio de incentivos) for employees to create new accounts. It led to (llevó a) the firing of (el despido de) nearly 5,300 employees and $5 million being set aside (reservado) for customer refunds (reembolsos) on fees (comisiones bancarias) for accounts the customers never wanted.

Lucy Kellaway on Wells Fargo

Lucy Kellaway, the FT’s (financial times) management columnist, pokes fun (se burla de) at management fads (modas pasajeras) and jargon (argot), and celebrates the ups and downs (altibajos) of office life. You can find more of Lucy Kellaway’s columns from the Financial Times.

Wells Fargo’s wagonload (vagón completo) of insincere regret (pesar): After being taken for a ride (embaucado), customers should bridle at (mostrar enojo) the guff (chorrada) in the bank’s apology advert, says Lucy Kellaway.

Instructions – listen to the following podcast audio two to three times, taking note of new and interesting phrases, before reading the transcript text below.

Article / Podcast Transcript

CEFR Level: C1 (Upper Intermediate) / IELTS Level: 6.5-8

Estimated reading time at advanced level: 3 minutes, 36 seconds. Contains 723 words

Original article – “Lucy Kellaway: Wells Fargo’s wagonload of insincere regrets

(00:34 -) So far this month Wells Fargo has said sorry twice. One apology was for something huge. For years, its staff had been quietly setting up as many as 2m fake customer accounts and credit cards. Now they’ve been rumbled: the bank has been fined $185m and 5,300 people have been sacked.

Vocab Focus

  • so far this month – En lo que va de mes / en lo que llevamos de mes / hasta este mes
  • huge (adj.) hjuːʤ
  • set up / setting up – abrir una cuenta
  • (to) rumble sb. – pillar a algn.
  • (to) be fined – multado
  • (to) be sacked – despedido (de un trabajo)

Exercises for listening skills, comprehension to follow ↓↓

(00:55 -) The other apology was for something tiny. Wells Fargo had decreed that last Saturday was Teen Financial Education Day and to celebrate it, the bank ran ads that said “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today” and “An actor yesterday. A botanist today.” The slogans were stupid, but you could see what they were driving at — the US economy needs more engineers than ballerinas. Yet dancers and actors kicked up a fuss on Twitter.

Vocab Focus

  • decree(d) – regular verb – decretar
  • (to) run an ad / ad campaign – realizar una campaña (de publicidad)
  • slogans – lema / eslogan / consigna
  • (to) drive at sth. – hacer una propuesta / propósito
  • yet – pero (at the beginning of a sentence)
  • (to) kick up a fuss – protestar

(01:28 -) In response, Wells Fargo did an about turn: “We offer our sincere apology for the initial ads … they were intended to celebrate all the aspirations of young people and fell short of that goal. We are making changes to the campaign’s creative that better reflect … our support of the arts.” – In other words, total capitulation.

  • in response, – en respuesta,
  • (to) do an about turn – to turn 180° / media vuelta / cambio total en su posición
  • initial (adj.) – en primer lugar
  • (to) intend to +inf – tener la intención de …
  • (to) fall short of … – no cumplir las expectativas
  • capitulation – capitulación (similar)

Exercises for listening skills, comprehension to follow ↓↓

(01:51 -) Wells Fargo’s response in the other case was rather different. It took out full-page adverts in US newspapers, which ought to have offered plenty of room for grovelling. Instead the bank decided to use the space to tell cheated customers how marvellous it was.

Vocab Focus

  • rather (adj.) –
  • (to) take out an advert –
  • (to) grovel / grovelling –
  • cheated customers –
(02:09 -) It started by repeating the bank’s mission statement: “We want to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially.”
(02:19 -) As missions go, this one is perfectly OK — if you ignore how hollow it sounds given what has just happened. But instead of explaining why things went so wrong, the bank blandly states that its mission is “as important to us today as it has ever been”.

Vocab Focus

  • hollow (adj.) –
  • given what happened … –
  • bland / blandly (adj. adv.) –

Exercises for listening skills, comprehension to follow ↓↓

(02:39 -) It goes on to refer vaguely to “allegations that some of our retail customers received products and services they did not want”. This would be fine if it were a supermarket and had by mistake delivered a few extra packets of cereal to a few dozen customers, but doesn’t begin to cover the severity of what it has done.

Vocab Focus

  • (to) go on to +inf –
  • vague / vaguely –
  • ___ would be ___, if it were ___ –
  • a few dozen –
  • (it) doesn´t begin to +inf –
(03:01 -) The advert then says the bank “regrets” what has happened, takes “full responsibility” and has made “many improvements” as a result of it. These include “redoubling communications and training for our Team Members to reinforce our commitment to doing the right thing for you, our customers” — which doesn’t give one much hope that things will improve. If the existing training has failed so badly why would doing more of the same make things better.

Vocab Focus

  • (to) redouble / redoubling communications –
  • (to) reinforce –
  • (to) do more of the same –

(03:35 -) The next “improvement” consists of “appropriate actions — including disciplinary‚ to address those who have served our customers in ways that were counter to our ‘Vision & Values’.” In other words, lots of people have lost their jobs. But this doesn’t feel right either. If one employee offends against a bank’s vision and values, it is their fault. If 5,300 do, it is the bank’s. Wells Fargo has proved that its culture is a hopeless safeguard to anything. The people who have really transgressed are not the rank and file, but the top managers who set up the wrong incentives and who looked the other way as customers were stitched up.

Vocab Focus

  • (to) be counter to sth. –
  • in other words –
  • a safeguard –
  • (to) transgress –
  • the “rank and file” –
  • (to) look the other way –
  • (to) stich sb. up –
(04:21 -) A further “improvement” is the feeblest of the lot: customers who open bank accounts or apply for credit cards will in future get automated emails. Wells Fargo scandal explained.

Vocab Focus

  • feeblest (adj. w/ superlative) –
  • scandal –
(04:34 -) In case anyone is not mollified at the prospect of more emails clogging up their inboxes, the advertisement concludes: “Wells Fargo’s journey began in 1852 and now includes more than 250,000 team members united in serving you, dedicated to your success and passionate about earning your ongoing confidence and trust.”

Vocab Focus

  • mollified –
  • (to) clog up –
  • (to) be united in +gerund –
  • ongoing (adj.)
(04:59 -) If I were an affected customer I would not care how long the “journey” had been going on. I’d want it to stop now. I’d also note that a quarter of a million people is far too many for a team. The best number is six.

Vocab Focus

  • I would also note that … –
(05:13 -) But most importantly I’d be bridling at Wells Fargo’s cheek in telling me that they have always been “passionate” about my trust, when I’d just been taken for a ride.
(05:25 -) More than that I’d take note of this new way of escaping blame. Sack your foot soldiers, insist the bank (ie the senior management) is as fantastic as ever and shower your customers with words — as well as a bit more junk mail.

Vocab Focus

  • bridling –
  • the cheek / to be cheeky –
  • (to) be taken for a ride –
  • (to) escape blame –
  • (to) sack sb. –
  • foot soldiers –
  • (to) shower sb. with sth. –

Exercises for listening skills, comprehension to follow ↓↓

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Listen to Lucy, Lucy Kellaway Podcast
Listen to Lucy, Lucy Kellaway Podcast

Further reading – Wells Fargo Scandal May Be Sign of a Poisonous Culture

Tags – financial times, listen to lucy, business english, Wells Fargo, corporate responsibility

Link to – “Listen to Lucy” podcast feed

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