As Wells Fargo attempts to rebuild its credibility following a series of public missteps, a rebrand might be in order, said Ken Wisnefski, founder and CEO of the digital marketing firm WebiMax.
The nation's fourth-largest bank has an image problem, stemming from a 2016 scandal in which employees opened millions of fraudulent accounts to receive sales-based incentives.
The bank endured subsequent faux pas tied to its auto insurance, mortgage and wealth management divisions, and has agreed to pay more than $4 billion in the past three years to settle various regulatory disputes, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
To restore its reputation and earn back customers' trust, the San Francisco-based bank has scoured the marketplace for a new CEO and launched an ad campaign addressing its mistakes.
But the campaign has received mixed reactions from consumers and marketing experts, and the bank is hemorrhaging value during its search for a new top executive.
The bank's stock has lost almost $24 billion since the March departure of former CEO Tim Sloan, according to Bloomberg.
A complicated turnaround
As part of an ad campaign dubbed "Re-established," a one-minute commercial last year referenced the bank's legacy as a carrier of goods by stagecoach.
The bank is making "a complete recommitment to you, fixing what went wrong, making things right, and ending product-sales goals for branch bankers so we can focus on your satisfaction."
"I think the messaging that they've put out is good," said Wisnefski, whose company specializes in reputation management.
But the 167-year-old bank's well-established brand is complicating the turnaround, he said.
"The challenge is that the brand has such a big name and the story was so prominent," Wisnefski told Banking Dive. "I think it's going to be difficult in their particular case to be able to move past that. It's going to be a scenario that will continue to plague them for some time."
The bank may want to consider a more drastic approach, Wisnefski said.
"I think in this particular case, it's a matter of saying, 'Hey we've revamped everything, we've restructured and we're even going so far as changing our name to take this to a new degree,'" he said. "When the challenge is so great, that's the aspect they need to consider in order to lose that negative connotation associated with the brand."
A leadership void
Consumer sentiment for Wells Fargo last year was 91% negative, according to a survey by web-based analytics platform TickerTags. The rating was the most negative for the bank since January 2012, according to Bloomberg, which noted that sentiment was 74% negative directly after the 2016 scandal.
The bank's well-publicized troubles could also be hampering its search for a new CEO.
Several prominent bank executives have turned down the position, which interim CEO Allen Parker has held for the past five months, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The bank is irresponsible "to have a CEO leave with no plan in place," JPMorgan Chase CEO told an investor conference in May, according to the Journal.
Wells Fargo's board is considering Parker for the permanent CEO role, Reuters and CNBC reported. Wisnefski said he would advise against the move, adding that an outside hire is crucial to a successful revamp.
"I think the public's perception would be that [the scandal] has not really been addressed" if the bank were to promote from within, Wisnefski said. "It could be viewed, more or less, as a scenario that's a quick fix."
Another black eye
Whomever takes the helm at the bank will have to contend with regulators and lawmakers such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA and Bernie Sanders, I-VT, who have targeted the financial institution in recent years.
Warren, who is running for president, sent a letter Monday asking Parker how much money Wells Fargo has collected in fees over the past five years. The letter follows a New York Times report that the bank charged overdraft fees on accounts customers thought they had closed. Warren suggested this latest scandal indicates the bank has not cleaned up its act.
"Nowadays with social media and the internet in general, these types of situations can spread so much faster than they did years ago," Wisnefski said. "This is a perfect example of a real giant in the industry being almost brought down entirely due to scandal. Smaller businesses probably wouldn't have the financial constraints to be able to survive such a thing."