People my kids' age, who track their money by smartphone, wonder why garish competing bank branches still stud every shopping district in Philadelphia and the suburbs.
Now we know: Behind the lollipops and the barred cages where the tellers sit, perverse incentives at many banks turn branches into, not just stores, but sweatshops, pushing products customers don't need and may not have ordered, thanks to admissions by Wells Fargo Bank, the dominant lender around Philadelphia, and veteran bankers.
Facing outrage, Wells Fargo has belatedly stalled tens of millions of dollars in stock awards to two top executives after admitting it fired 5,300 low-paid workers over five years for opening phony accounts to meet aggressive sales targets.
Why did it take five years? At a five-hour grilling in Congress, Chamber of Commerce Republicans told Wells Fargo CEO/Chairman John Stumpf that he had betrayed capitalism, and made their strident campaigns against regulation look silly.
Stumpf admitted to Rep. Keith Rothfus (R., Pa.) that his bank had found nearly 80,000 phony accounts in Pennsylvania.
Stumpf tried to say 80,000 isn't a lot, among the bank's two million accounts in Pennsylvania. The bank says it didn't impose fees for most of these accounts.
But I'd say Wells Fargo better keep counting, if the stories pouring into my office from his former suburban Philadelphia employees are any sign. And it's not just Wells Fargo.
Junior branch bank jobs don't pay much. Tellers make a few bucks above minimum wage. (And no hazard pay: One of my sons walked in on an armed robbery when he worked at WSFS Bank a few summers ago; as he backed out and dialed 911, two of his colleagues were pistol-whipped and had to be hospitalized.)
But low-level Wells Fargo bankers paid $25,000 a year could more than double their income by meeting bank quotas for opening new accounts.
Store managers conferenced every morning with their district bosses to set daily targets for "Packs" - checking, savings, debit card and online accounts, and mortgage and broker referrals. And then, as one ex-manager put it, "the games would begin."
What would you do? On slow days, enterprising branch employees cruised fast-food outlets and food stores for customers. May I interest you in a savings account? Others would raid customers' private data, looking for signs a depositor might be ready for a home loan. Some forged credit card application signatures.
Bankers who hit their targets early might get to go home for the day. Managers who hadn't reached quota by 5 p.m. would have to stay late.
Often employees set up extra accounts for friends and family members. Colleagues would swap Social Security numbers for multiple new group accounts. After 60 days - long enough to earn bonus credits - they'd shut these accounts and repeat.
Employees who failed to play along got yelled at. Occasionally one was let go, to encourage the rest.
"Did you ever work as a teller?" Rep. Rothfus asked CEO Stumpf.
"I'm not trained," Stumpf said.
Maybe Stumpf should go on Undercover Boss, the TV show where you CEOs see what it's like when the little people are squeezed, the congressman suggested. "Stand in their shoes."
My correspondents liked that suggestion. They also made clear it's not just Wells Fargo. Community banks and big multinationals do it, too.
Wells Fargo says it has scrapped that incentive system. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D., N.Y.) asked how low-paid Wells Fargo workers will make up the lost income.
We'll come up with a new incentive plan, Stumpf said. Next year.