US bank fires a bunch of employees after finding out they were pretending to work

Wells Fargo has reportedly let go of a handful of staff who were faking working. — Bloomberg/Getty Images/The New York Times

A handful of bankers have been let go by Wells Fargo after the financial giant discovered the staff were “simulating keyboard activity” instead of actually working.

The more than dozen employees were all in the firm’s wealth- and investment-management team, and were “discharged after review of allegations involving simulation of keyboard activity creating impression of active work”.

The issue was raised in a filing to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which was seen by Bloomberg.

“Wells Fargo holds employees to the highest standards and does not tolerate unethical behaviour,” a company spokeswoman told Fortune.

What the filing doesn’t make clear is quite how the employees managed to fake their working day, and for how long they got away with it. Whether or not the employees were in the office or working from home is not stated, though the wider policy for Wells Fargo staffers is to be in-person at least three days a week.

“A hybrid schedule is available with many of our corporate positions, giving you the flexibility to work from home on some days and at the office on others,” the company’s website adds – a public position at odds with the widespread push on Wall Street to return to the office.

'Mouse jiggler'?

While Wells Fargo – which is the third biggest bank in America – did not expand on what its staffers used to “simulate” the work, there are many techniques and technologies available.

During the coronavirus pandemic when staff were sent to their home offices, social media was alight with tips and tricks on how to get away with looking busy while doing the bare minimum.

One of the tools some people reportedly used was a ‘mouse mover’ or ‘mouse jiggler’ so that activity on the device was recorded. As a result, the individual would always show as ‘online’ with their screen active.

Likewise keyboard ‘clickers’ simulate an individual typing, when actually a machine is pressing random buttons on a device’s keyboard. Such tools are still readily available to purchase online – with some claiming to be “undetectable”.

Wall Street mandates

The Wells Fargo incident may have proved a small victory for the Wall Street majority who have been pushing to get staff back to their desks more often – where their bosses can see them.

Despite the upsides experts have flagged with hybrid work – from it being a better solution for women through to ensuring the retention of highly talented individuals – many finance titans have pushed hard to get their staff back.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, for example, has pushed employees at America’s biggest bank to return to the office. Last year he said that companies should “modify” their models to help women who needed an additional layer of flexibility, but more widely believes remote work “doesn’t work for young kids or spontaneity or management”.

As a result senior leaders at the company are required to be at their desks five days a week, with other employees expected in at least three times.

The line is the same at Morgan Stanley, with former CEO – now chairman – James Gorman giving staffers a no-nonsense reality check back in January last year. In an interview with Bloomberg he said: “(Staff) don’t get to choose their compensation, they don’t get to choose their promotion, they don’t get to choose to stay home five days a week. I want them with other employees at least three or four days.”

Goldman Sachs is in the same boat – and has repeatedly reminded employees that they need to be in the office five days a week. Last summer human resources chief Jacqueline Arthur said: “While there is flexibility when needed, we are simply reminding our employees of our existing policy. We have continued to encourage employees to work in the office five days a week.” – New York Times

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