Countrywide May Be a Worldcom, But BofA Is no MCI

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Bank of America (BAC) wants us to believe it's MCI and Countrywide is Worldcom. The thing is...

I know MCI post-Worldcom...and BofA is no MCI post-Worldcom.

After the Worldcom accounting scandal rocked Wall Street a decade ago, MCI (now owned by Verizon, one of the last Baby Bells standing) ran mandatory ethics training throughout the company. MCI had transparency. MCI had auditing practices in place. MCI's company materials were easy to read and followed by every employee of the company.

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I was a Relay Operator at the time. My group translated telephone calls between voice phone users and text calls from the deaf and hard of hearing. To respect the privacy of our customers, MCI built a secure room in the back that could only be accessed with a special ID. Prior to the interview, we were tested for our ability to relay sensitive information without judgment. Within the first 10 minutes of sitting down to interview for my position (in my most professional suit and tie), I was handed a piece of paper and told to read five things straight-faced (these are just descriptions, not literally the things I had to read):

  • Something about killing a politician
  • Something anti-Semitic
  • Something sacrilegious
  • Something sexy (I actually did a sexy voice for this one and made him crack a smile)
  • Something obscene

After passing all of the interviews and aptitude tests, we were given a drug pre-screening and run through a standard background check. The first week of training, the checks came through, and one person was removed from the class...

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MCI's training class was one of the more engaging corporate training classes I've ever been through (and I've been through a LOT of training courses). They played videos on ethics and quizzed us. The employees bought into the corporate culture. The honesty and morality was forced upon the company by the corporation, but it was genuine. There were checks and balances in place, and, as in nearly every company I ever worked for in my life, the customer was the focus. Ethics saturated the entire company from the top down. Unfortunately over the next decade, cell- and web-based calling rose up to dominate society, making MCI's Friends and Family plan obsolete. The company faded away soon after.

By the time Verizon took over MCI, I had already moved on. I got a job with Countrywide Home Loans. I found myself experiencing culture shock in an entirely different world. Ethics and morality were no longer discussed. It was the first job where we didn't take a course on sexual harassment and ethics as part of the initial training course. We were shown a dress code and vacation policy, but other than that—nothing. The business was entirely numbers driven. Critical thinking wasn't encouraged. Questions went nowhere. The only suggestions that were solicited were suggestions that led to higher production.

The customer was never a focus. In fact, the majority of workers in the mortgage industry don't work in customer facing positions. The industry is divided into front end and back end. When you speak to a customer service associate, he'll blame everything on the back end (aka "corporate," "the mailroom," etc). That back end is where I worked, managing multiple teams and projects at five processing centers in three countries for over a dozen of the largest lenders in the country.

In the back end, the only time we so much as looked at a customer's name was to spellcheck it. Not only are you not considered important as a customer, but you also aren't looked at as people. You're numbers and codes on a screen. We were completely detached from the effects of what we did.

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In the back end, everything is compartmentalized to the point that everyone is sitting in cubicles putting numbers in fields. Each department monitors certain fields for certain numbers. The meaning of these numbers and fields is never taught. In fact, it's purposely withheld.

In every meeting I ever had with executive management, we were encouraged to keep people disconnected so they would not understand the big picture. Explanations of the effects of each value in each field are purposely dumbed down or even left out of training material. Workers are taught what to do with no attention given to what it means or affects.

The fact of the matter is that the housing crisis and fraudulent foreclosures aren't committed directly by executives like BofA President and CEO Brian Moynihan. It's not the 1% directly raising your payments and manufacturing foreclosures. Corporate banks don't work like that. They work like the mafia. Brian Moynihan is the capo. BofA co-CEOs David Darnell and Thomas Montag are his consiglieri. Everyone else is a soldier...

And the only way we'll ever prove the fraud that the banks committed during the financial crisis and subsequently stop it is to hit them in their back ends...

Brian Penny is a former business analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower. He documents his experiences van dwelling, working with Anonymous, training to be a yogi, and fighting the banks on his blog.

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