By now, I’m guessing few people believed Wells Fargo chief John Stumpf when he said last week there was nothing wrong with the corporate culture of the nation’s largest bank after employees deliberately bilked more than 100,000 customers out of more than $2 million in bogus fees over a five-year period. 

Stumpf attempted to make it right by agreeing to pay $185 million in fines and penalties. He also admitted the bank had fired 5,300 employees over the past five years for “improper selling,” a euphemism for signing customers up for accounts and products they didn’t want without their knowledge. 

While $185 million seems like a lot, it is small potatoes compared with Wells Fargo’s second-quarter earnings, which totaled more than $5.5 billion. 

Also it’s worth noting that the 5,300 people fired are just 2 percent of the global bank’s workforce, although 10 percent were branch managers.

I’m pretty sure most people would agree that something of that scope is not the result of a few bad apples. It has all the markings of being a function of the bank’s highly touted cross-selling culture having gone bad.  

Stumpf’s predecessor, Richard Kovacevich, introduced cross selling in the mid-1990s, when he was hired to run Minneapolis-based Norwest Bank. (Norwest later acquired Wells Fargo and kept the better-known bank’s name.) 

As Kovacevich often explained, it was easier to sell new products to existing customers than to attract new ones. 

If you already had a checking account, it made sense to have a safe deposit box, a savings account, certificates of deposit, a home mortgage, a home equity line of credit and other financial service products, assuming you needed them, at the same bank. 

Wells Fargo would bundle the products and provide them at a lower cost than you’d pay if you bought them separately from other providers. 

It was win-win, until someone got too greedy and added too many cross-selling incentives to employees’ performance-based reviews.

The real mystery is why it took them five years after they learned what was happening to stop the shady practices.

On one level, I can empathize because when I was managing business writers at The Des Moines Register 15 years ago, I, too, had to administer poorly thought-out performance-based incentives created by our corporate parent, Gannett Co.  

My reporters were supposed to produce specific numbers of front-page stories. Never mind that if every reporter met the goal, we’d have far more stories than front-page space. 

At one point, there was an even more bizarre incentive system for managers that tied bonuses to increased circulation. 

For a time, circulation magically rose to meet the goals, or so it seemed. 

It ended when a handful of major newspapers got in trouble for inflating circulation numbers. A lot of people thought the problem was wider than the handful of newspapers that got caught.  

Nobody at the Register was ever caught inflating circulation numbers. But after the scandals broke, the newspaper quietly eliminated the circulation goals from managers’ reviews. 

Circulation dropped like a rock for a few years until the reported numbers were closer to what I assume was reality. 

The next performance goal for managers was winning journalism prizes, which created its own set of problems by encouraging sensationalism. 

That’s a subject for a different column. But I still remember the new editor who called in the investigative reporting team and told them they were expected to win a Pulitzer Prize the following year. 

They didn’t, but it didn’t matter, because by then that editor had moved on to another Gannett newspaper.

My point is I know bad corporate culture when I see it, and Wells Fargo has it.