Former Wells Fargo Advisors Sue the Company Over Cross-Selling
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Former Wells Fargo Advisors Sue the Company Over Cross-Selling

By KENNETH CORBIN
Sat, Mar 9, 2024 6:37amGrey Clock 3 min

Two former Wells Fargo advisors are suing the firm for breach of contract, unfair business practices, and retaliation after they say they resisted pressure from their supervisors to secretly transfer sensitive client information from the advisor and brokerage side of the company to the private bank.

The advisors, Karen Keusayan and Richard Green, are also alleging that Wells Fargo improperly withheld deferred compensation after they resigned in 2021 and joined Morgan Stanley , where they are still registered.

In their complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the advisors describe themselves as high-producing employees who were loyal to the company even through the “nightmarish” years of 2015 to 2017, when Wells Fargo’s banking division was “publicly scorned” for the fake account scandal.

“This is not the ‘sour grapes’ case of a disgruntled employee(s) who sought a promotion and did not get one,” the advisors say in their complaint. “Neither Ms. Keusayan nor Mr. Green ever wanted to leave Wells Fargo. The goal for each had always been to retire at Wells Fargo.”

Wells Fargo declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The two advisors joined forces in 2015 to form a “production partnership,” according to the complaint, which says they grew their book of business to more than $1 billion by 2020.

In 2018, Wells Fargo introduced a new element to its advisor compensation plan, according to the complaint. Advisors were expected to complete forms called client discovery reviews, or CDRs, detailing information about advisory clients. The plaintiffs say they were directed by a compliance officer to keep the forms secret from the clients themselves.

Instead, the CDRs were intended for Wells Fargo’s private bank, “not the broker-dealer/financial services side where plaintiffs worked,” according to the complaint.

They contend that advisors were pressured to work with clients to complete CDRs, which would be secretly shared with Wells Fargo private bankers who could use them as sales leads.

Before submitting the forms to count toward a quota that resulted in additional compensation, the advisors had to check three boxes stating that they had discussed the information with the client, that the information was accurate, and that they had offered the client an opportunity to obtain a copy of the document. On that last item, the plaintiffs allege that Wells Fargo essentially instructed the advisors to lie, explaining that the document didn’t belong to the advisors, but the bank, even though the information came from their own clients.

“[H]igh-ranking compliance personnel at Wells Fargo Advisors repeatedly told plaintiffs to never deliver or present the CDR to the client since, as it was explained by compliance, the CDR was a bank document,” the complaint states. “Worse, plaintiffs were told not to inform the client that a CDR had been prepared.”

The plaintiffs say that these “dishonest instructions” put them in an “impossible position” and that they soon began raising concerns with their superiors. But each time they spoke out, they were told by their supervisors to continue submitting the forms as a requisite part of the company’s compensation plan.

The complaint describes the advisors’ growing unease with being pressured to falsify the CDR submission document, as well as concerns over the personal privacy of their clients, whose information was allegedly being shared internally without their knowledge or permission.

The advisors say that their bosses undertook a retaliatory campaign against them for continuing to raise objections to the CDR program, “including by failing to provide the banking support that plaintiffs and their clients had come to expect as a benefit of being associated with a large, full-service, retail bank,” according to the complaint.

They also say that the advisors felt their jobs were at risk, offering examples of a hostile or coercive work environment. “Mr. Green was berated by a yelling supervisor in front of fellow employees, and Ms. Keusayan was informed that the bank would not issue a routine credit card to her sister (a customer) if a CDR was not on file,” according to the complaint.

The advisors say the deteriorating work environment ultimately led them to resign around July 2021, after which they were informed that they were ineligible for large sums of deferred compensation—$662,000 for Keusayan and nearly $814,000 for Green.

The advisors are seeking to recoup the deferred comp they say they are owed, and are asking the court for additional damages, as well as an injunction barring Wells Fargo from engaging in the conduct alleged in the complaint, among other relief.



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Is the Stock Market Near Its Top?

Don’t let the hum of the bull tune out signs warning that a bear may be lurking.

By ANDY KESSLER
Mon, Jul 15, 2024 3 min

The third season of the terrific show “The Bear” blends family dysfunction with the ups and downs of high-end restaurants. With markets chasing new highs—get out those Dow 40000 hats—this column is about a different kind of dysfunctional beast. Is the market bear dead, or is it about to sneak up on us?

A U.S. equity strategist told me the story of a Japanese portfolio manager who sat in his office in July 1987 asking for stock ideas. The strategist’s model was based on a proprietary survey of investor sentiment, though it never really worked. Nonetheless, he read off a list of dozens of stocks. The portfolio manager then asked if he would kindly put in an order for 20,000 shares of each. The Dow Jones Industrial Average peaked at 2722 in late August and crashed 22.6% on Oct. 19.

A friend was a portfolio manager of a massive growth-stock fund in 1999. He told me he bought shares of Yahoo, Cisco, F5 Networks, Infosys and others every day because money flowed into his fund every day. The tech-heavy Nasdaq index peaked on March 10, 2000. As money began to flow out, he had to sell every day. By year’s end, Nasdaq had fallen by more than half.

I met Cathie Wood as she was filing papers for her “disruptive innovation” funds—to “change the way the world works.” Her ARK Innovation exchange-traded fund, ARKK, launched in October 2014 and charges 0.75% management fees. In 2020 it was up 153% as stimulus money flew in, driving more buying. ARKK peaked in February 2021 with $28 billion in assets. Since then, its net asset value is down 70%, even amid a roaring bull market, especially in tech. Morningstar recently calculated that Ms. Wood’s Ark Invest funds have destroyed more than $14 billion in wealth. One of my favorite Wall Street sayings is, “Don’t mistake a bull market for brains.”

In almost every bull run, stock momentum lures in investors at the worst moment, I call them momos, ensuring they get burned when the buying stops. Since 2009, excepting a few brief sell-offs, cash has been trash. That made some sense during the era of zero interest rates. But now with higher inflation and short rates above 5%? Confusing. Maybe investors are already anticipating another Donald Trump antiregulation pro-growth presidency, forgetting that he is married to a growth-killing pro-tariff agenda. Is the bear dead, or does it have a long fuse?

Predicting stock markets is a fool’s errand. My Series 7 test for General Securities Representative Qualification lapsed long ago, so you won’t get investment advice from me. But there are warning signs.

Have we run out of buyers? Sometimes there are triggers that scare them away: oil shocks, viruses, bank failures. But sometimes they simply collapse from exhaustion. More than 40% of households reportedly own stocks—a higher percentage than in 2000. It was 20% in 2010. Some market indicators also point to asset managers being fully invested. Who’s left to buy?

Market breadth is concerning. The 1973 market peak was driven by stretched valuations of the Nifty Fifty, which included IBM , Coca-Cola and GE but also Polaroid and Xerox . Fifty? Now it’s the Magnificent Seven: Alphabet , Amazon , Apple , Meta , Microsoft , Nvidia and Tesla . Seven? Artificial-intelligence hype, way ahead of even the rosiest of realities, drove Nvidia to make up almost a third of the S&P 500’s first half gains. Another quarter came from Amazon, Meta, Microsoft and Eli Lilly . Maybe fat bulls need Mounjaro.

Stock values feel divorced from reality. The so-called Warren Buffett indicator—the ratio between total stock-market value and gross domestic product—was 138% in March 2000. It’s now 196%. Certainly not a buy signal. And Bitcoin, my go-to bubblicious bat signal, is down about 20% since March. A dead canary?

“Don’t worry, be happy,” the bulls sing. Inflation is slain, and the Fed will cut rates. But investors won’t like the reason for those cuts. We’re already seeing earnings disasters—Nike, Walgreens , Lululemon , Delta and Wells Fargo . If the economy slows, earnings glitches and stock implosions become contagious. Plus, banks’ exposure to commercial real estate is scary, with buildings being dumped at huge haircuts almost weekly. This is now infecting rental buildings, and there are signs of a private housing glut. Inventory in Denver is up nearly 37%. Sure, markets climb a “wall of worry,” and bull markets tend to last longer than people expect, but sometimes the nightmares are real. Recessions are like honey to bears.

Even writing about the bear is bullish. Bull runs end when everyone is a believer. Still, another favorite saying of mine is, “No one’s ever lost money taking a profit.” Someday, cash will be king again. I prefer to buy stocks when everyone hates them.

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