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Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf on Tuesday met with the Senate Banking Committee and gave a feisty, nearly three-hour testimony about fraudulent accounts opened by Wells employees.
Two million checking and credit-card accounts were opened from 2011 onward by Wells Fargo employees without the knowledge of customers. The accounts were created to generate fees for Wells, as well as for employees to meet aggressive sales targets.
“This was not a mix-up under the Christmas tree. This was fraud, fraud that you did not find, or fraud that you did not fix quick enough,” ranking member Sen. Sherrod Brown said, addressing Stumpf.Stumpf said the creation of the accounts was not a systemic issue caused by the upper levels of the firm. “I do want to make it clear that there was no orchestrated effort, or scheme as some have called it, by the company,” Stumpf said.Stumpf also defended the culture of the company, saying that while it was not “random acts” that caused the scandal, the broader firm did not create an environment that led to the problem.The bank is expanding its review for possible improper accounts to 2009 and 2010.Stumpf said the business was dealing with the issue for multiple years before he knew about it. “If I could turn the clock back, I, we all, wish we had done something earlier,” Stumpf said.Most of the people who were laid off were in “good-paying jobs,” Stumpf said, including bankers and one regional president.Stumpf defended the compensation that Carrie Tolstedt, the head of community banking who oversaw the division that carried out the fraudulent activity, received upon her retirement in July. He also said she had decided to retire after being notified that the bank wanted “to go in a different direction.”Sen. Elizabeth Warren lit into Stumpf, saying he had exemplified “gutless leadership” and should be personally “criminally investigated” for the scandal. Sen. Jeff Merkley also called for Stumpf’s resignation.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Los Angeles city attorney all went after Wells for the practice and settled for a $185 million fine.
Representatives from the CFPB and Office of the Comptroller will be present for the hearing.
10:00 – Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the chairman of the committee, opened the meeting and noted the penalties against the firm and the comments from former employees on the “high pressure” sales environment at Wells. “I’ve often said that banking is based on trust, and trust was broken at Wells Fargo,” Shelby said.
Shelby also questioned why regulators took until 2015 to release information on the unauthorized accounts and when they knew of the accounts.
10:06 – Ranking member Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said that Wells Fargo was defrauding customers of their “hard-earned money” to “enrich executives,” adding that the firm had not “admitted to responsibility for misdeeds.” Brown also said the firm had been “downright hostile” toward customers who have faced these issues.
Brown also claimed that employees at Wells Fargo worked overtime off-the-clock and “cut corners” to meet the tough sales guidelines at Wells. “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 mix-up under the Christmas tree. This was fraud, fraud that you did not find, or fraud that you did not fix quick enough,” Brown added, addressing Stumpf.
10:13 – Stumpf began his prepared remarks, which were released Monday by The New York Times.
“I am deeply sorry that we failed to fulfill our responsibility to our customers, to our team members, and to the American public,” Stumpf said in his prepared remarks.
Stumpf also said the issues with the accounts were not part of a systemic issue created by the upper levels of the firm.
“I do want to make it clear that there was no orchestrated effort, or scheme as some have called it, by the company,” Stumpf said. “We never directed or wanted our employees, whom we refer to as team members, to provide products and services to customers they did not want or need.”
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10:18 – Stumpf announced three new measures that the bank would undertake beyond what has already been done. They are:
Expanding their review for possible improper accounts to 2009 and 2010. Contact all customers to make sure they want to keep all of the products they already have with the bank. Contact all credit-card customers to ask whether they wish to have their credit card, similar to the practice Wells undertook in California previously.
10:24 – Stumpf said the bank did not know whether the fraudulent account activity had occurred before 2011, and that is why the bank was extending its review to 2009 and 2010.
10:26 – Stumpf said the business was dealing with the issue for years before he knew of it. “If I could turn the clock back, I, we all, wish we had done something earlier,” Stumpf said. Stumpf said he and other senior executives found out about the issue in 2013, but lower-level management was dealing with it before that time.
10:29 – Stumpf defended the compensation that Carrie Tolstedt, the head of community banking who oversaw the division that carried out the fraudulent activity, received upon her retirement in July. Stumpf said that Tolstedt did not receive any severance upon her retirement in July but that the reported $125 million in compensation she received was instead from previous stock compensation.
10:32 – Sen. Shelby asked Stumpf about customers’ trust in Wells Fargo and whether it was violated. “There is no question with some of our customers we have violated that trust and we will work hard to rebuild that,” Stumpf said.
10:34 – Stumpf said Wells Fargo would consider going back beyond 2009 to see whether fraudulent activity occurred.
10:39 – Most of the people who were laid off were in “good-paying jobs,” Stumpf said, including bankers and one regional president. Stumpf also said he would not make a recommendation whether the board of directors should claw back any of the up to $125 million in stock compensation for Tolstedt.
Stumpf also said Wells Fargo brought in PriceWaterhouseCoopers to review the possibility of fraudulent accounts in August 2015 at the recommendation of regulators, not completely of its own accord.
10:42 – Sen. Brown asked why PWC was not brought in before 2015 when there were indications, including a Los Angeles Times article in 2013, that accounts were being opened.
10:44 – Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said not clawing back some of Tolstedt’s stock compensation would be “malpractice” of public relations for all involved.
Stumpf said the board of directors was made aware of possible issues in late 2013 or early 2014 but did not know whether it was triggered by the Los Angeles Times article.
10:47 – “It got to the board level in 2013 because progress was not being made,” Stumpf said in describing the amount of knowledge Tolstedt had about opening of fraudulent accounts. “It was based on a number of issues, this was one of those issues,” Stumpf said when asked by Corker whether Tolstedt left over the accounts.
10:50 – Stumpf said there were numerous initiatives to enforce and emphasize ethics when the possibility of fraudulent accounts being opened came to light. “However it was not fast enough, not far enough, and I apologize for it,” Stumpf said.
10:56 – “I’m not a criminal officer, I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know the legal term,” Stumpf said when pushed by Sen. Patrick Toomey on whether the employees committed fraud by opening the unwanted accounts.
“That behavior has no place in our culture,” Stumpf said. “If that means fraud, that means fraud.”
11:03 – “This isn’t the work of 5,300 bad apples – this is the work of sowing seeds that poisoned the orchard,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said. “You and your executives created an environment that allowed for this behavior.”
Menendez also noted that the average pay for a teller at Wells Fargo (which he noted was about $10,000 above the poverty line) and the quota-based system led to a high-pressure environment that did not protect the customers of the bank.
“You think that environment was the appropriate environment to protect customers?” Menendez asked.
Stumpf said most of the firm’s employees enjoyed working at Wells Fargo based on surveys done by the bank.
11:07 – Menendez asked whether any senior executives had been hurt financially because of the fine or the scandal. Stumpf said people in charge of risk and regional presidents had been “held accountable.”
11:14 – Stumpf said he did not know whether the 565,000 credit cards that were opened but not activated may have affected credit scores for customers.
11:21 – Stumpf noted that California, Arizona, and New Jersey were disproportionately affected because of the size of Wells’ business in those areas.
11:26 – “Since this massive yearslong scam came to light you have said ‘I am accountable.’ What have you done to hold yourself accountable?” Elizabeth Warren asked. Warren asked Stumpf whether he had returned any of his compensation after the scandal had come to light. “Have you returned one nickel of the money you earned while this scandal was going on?” Warren said.
Stumpf did not respond. “I’ll take that as a no,” Warren said. Stumpf also said he had not fired any senior executives as defined by Warren. “It’s gutless leadership,” Warren said.
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11:30 – Warren said that cross-selling, the practice of getting customers to sign up for new products from Wells, was designed just to “pump up the stock of Wells Fargo” and increase the value of Stumpf’s stock-based compensation.
“You should resign, you should give back the money you made while this scam was going on, and you should be criminally investigated by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission,” Warren said.
“The only way Wall Street will change is if executives face jail time after committing fraud.”
11:47 – Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said he had “two or three mortgages” and “a couple of accounts” with Wells Fargo and was “disappointed with my financial institution” and asked whether there was a “safe place” where employees could go if they saw an issue at Wells Fargo.
“Each team member, no matter where they are in their organization, is encouraged to raise a hand if they are being asked to do something they do not feel is right,” Stumpf answered. He also said there was an anonymous ethics phone line employees could call.
11:56 – “You still are not acting fast enough,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said. “You do not have the answers here today that would allow us here to move forward.” Heitkamp added that Stumpf did not come to the meeting with answers on how the bank was restoring customer confidence and trust.
Heitkamp also emphasized that no one on the committee believed Stumpf when he said the scandal was not due to the culture.
12:00 – “I want to make clear, I do not believe 5,000 did 5,000 random things on their own,” acknowledged Stumpf, who has maintained it was not company-wide culture that lead to the scandal. He said people were most likely talking to one another in the organization about the actions.
12:06 – Sen. Jeff Merkley asked whether Wells Fargo tellers and other employees were put between a “rock and a hard place” because of the high-pressure sales environment. “I do not believe that,” Stumpf said.
Merkley also said “accepting responsibility would be to resign, as my colleague suggested.”
12:13 – Stumpf said Wells Fargo never disclosed the issues to shareholders through filings because “it was not a material event.”
12:18 – Stumpf said he held weekly meetings with Tolstedt (they both started in their roles in 2007), but he was not aware of firings because of fraudulent accounts until 2013. According to previous statements, 1,000 employees were fired every year from 2011 onward because of the account openings.
12:32 – Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) “urged” Stumpf not to issue bonuses to executives and to claw back Tolstedt’s stock compensation. Schumer also said he believed the Wells case proved the need for the CFPB.
12:35 – Warren questioned why Tolstedt was retiring just three months before actions by regulators and when the scandal was known by Wells Fargo. Warren also noted that if Tolstedt were fired instead, she would have lost $45 million of the stock compensation.
Warren asked whether Stumpf considered firing Tolstedt before retirement because of her oversight of the division involved in the scandal, which Warren notes Stumpf knew about at the time of Tolstedt’s retirement. “No,” Stumpf replied. He continued that he was considering Tolstedt’s full body of work and customer relationships built when allowing her to retire.
12:42 – Warren asked whether Stumpf personally believed Tolstedt’s compensation should be clawed back after the “massive fraud” that happened on her watch. “I will not opine on that,” Stumpf said, adding that he did not want to influence the compensation committee of the board of directors that he did not serve on.
Warren said the difference in actions by Stumpf toward lower-level employees and customers compared with Tolstedt made it clear that Wells Fargo’s scandal was just like 2008 in that “a giant bank cheats the little guys and the executives line their own pockets.”
“Mr. Stumpf, you make it clear that Wall Street will not change until we make it change,” Warren concluded.
12:46 – And with that Stumpf is finished. Thanks for joining.