In new testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf apologized profusely for the bank’s unethical sales practices that went on for at least five years and triggered settlements totaling $185 million to federal and state agencies.
More than 2 million bogus accounts were opened without customer approval and 5,300 employees were fired over several years.
“I am deeply sorry that we failed to fulfill our responsibility to our customers,” he said Sept. 20. “I want to apologize for violating the trust our customers have invested in Wells Fargo. And I want to apologize for not doing more sooner to address the causes of this unacceptable activity.”
Sorry wasn’t good enough for Elizabeth Warren, a committee member and senator from Massachusetts, who ripped into Stumpf and demanded his resignation and return of tens of millions of dollars of compensation. She suggested criminal investigation of Stumpf by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“You squeezed your employees to the breaking point so they would cheat customers and you could drive up the value of your stock and put hundreds of millions of dollars in your own pocket,” Warren said. “When it all blew up, you kept your job, your multimillion-dollar bonuses,” she said.”
She noted that Stumpf went on television to blame “thousands of $12-an-hour employees who were just trying to make cross-sell quotas that made you rich.”
“You should resign,” Warren told him. “You should give back the money you took while this scam was going on, and you should be criminally investigated.”
Stumpf did not explain how his leadership allowed some 5,300 errant employees to go so far off the ethical track for so long. The bank has more than 268,000 employees, with about 255,000 in the United States.
“There was no orchestrated effort, or scheme as some have called it, by the company,” Stumpf said. “When an employee provides a customer with a product or service that she did not request or authorize, that employee has done something flat wrong.”
“Today I am making a personal commitment to rebuild our customers’ and investors’ trust, the faith of our team members, and the confidence of the American people,” Stumpf said at the end of his prepared statement.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, recalled the financial crisis of 2008 and excoriated Stumpf.
“You would think you would have taken the lessons of the financial crisis to heart, given the high cost to this country,” Brown said. “This was not a mixup under the Christmas tree. This was fraud — fraud that you did not find or fraud that you did not fix quick[ly] enough.”
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, insisted that the company board claw back some of the estimated $125 million given to consumer banking executive Carrie Tolstedt as stock and other compensation in her career at the bank. She announced her retirement in July.
To curb the widespread misconduct, the bank hired mystery shoppers and on Sept. 12 announced that it will drop sales quotas, effective January 2017.
John Shrewsberry, the bank’s chief financial officer, spoke Sept. 12 in New York at the Barclays 2016 Global Financial Services Conference, where he described the bank’s internal investigation and resulting new practices. The bank spent $50 million on monitoring, including a mystery-shopper program that conducts more than 15,000 visits a year. Shrewsberry said changes include “putting greater priority on customer service, loyalty and ethics.”