Just when the images of Too-Big-To-Fail Bank CEOs facing faux-angry (but impotent under lobbying fees) politicians had moved to the back of the mind, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf will visit Capitol Hill to explain to the Senate Banking why he is "deeply sorry" about the massive and systemic fraud his bank visited upon Americans, and why he "accepts full responsibility" but will not resign (because he really owes it to the company to stay around and fix this mess).
As we previewed earlier, today at 10am, the US public will be treated to the latest Congressional kangaroo court, when Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf will tell the Senate Banking Committee that he is "deeply sorry", and accepts “full responsibility” for unethical sales practices in its retail banking business while apologizing for “not doing more sooner” to address the cause of such behavior.
That said, he will not resign, nor will he propose clawing back any of his pay or that of "sandbagger"-in-chief Carrie Tolstedt's $125 million parting cash award, as some Democratic senators have suggested. What Stumpf will do, according to his prepared remarks to be delivered today, Stumpf will say there was “no orchestrated effort or scheme” by the bank to encourage problematic sales practices.
“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 the prepared remarks. “I accept full responsibility for all unethical sales practices in our retail banking business. I am fully committed to doing everything possible to fix this issue, strengthen our culture and take the necessary actions to restore our customers’ trust."
Stumpf is scheduled to deliver the testimony two weeks after popular anger erupted at the bank which agreed to pay a $185 million fine after regulators found it had opened about two million deposit and credit-card accounts without customers’ consent. Wells Fargo said it fired 5,300 employees over the sales practices during a five-year period ended in March of this year. A House panel is also expected to hold a hearing later this month.
What is notable is the sharp change in tone, which has downshifted to deeply apologetic and is in sharp contrast to his earlier comments. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal one week ago, he blamed employees for allegedly illegal sales practices and defended the bank’s culture, saying that “there was no incentive to do bad things.” It is unclear if upon further recollection he realized that that was an exceptionally silly thing to say.
Rep. Brad Sherman of California, a Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, said last week that he and others would ask the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to examine how many Wells Fargo customers had been indirectly hurt by the bank’s sales practices, including how many had their credit reports dinged because the bank opened multiple credit cards for them.
In his testimony, Mr. Stumpf gave details about steps the bank has taken to address the problems and to regain customers’ trust. He said that starting in 2013, the bank analyzed questionable behavior related to account openings at its branches and strengthened internal oversight to fix the problems uncovered. The company had already said, following the announcement of the enforcement action, that it was eliminating sales goals for retail bankers for all products. “We should have done more sooner to eliminate unethical conduct and unintended incentives for that conduct to occur,” Mr. Stumpf said.
Overnight Reuters pointed out another curious tangent to emerge from the Wells Fargo fraud besides bad bank practices: gaps in U.S. regulatory teamwork, namely that the Justice Department was kept in the dark until the last minute about the San Francisco-based bank’s alleged fake accounts and its $185 million fine, according to people familiar with the situation. That’s why prosecutors are only just now kicking off a probe.
As Reuters reports, the United States has a sprawling financial oversight regime. Four federal agencies watch over banks, while two more regulate markets and thus the financial institutions involved. Those entities do not have criminal authority, however, and do not include state and local officials that also have supervisory duties. Cooperation therefore helps maximize leverage and penalties imposed on firms accused of wrongdoing. Regulators often work with the Justice Department on cases where additional civil charges or a criminal probe may be warranted. In recent cases ranging from market manipulation to violations of sanctions, that kind of collaboration has netted both criminal guilty pleas and substantial regulatory fines in one large settlement.
Justice Department officials are getting a late start in the Wells Fargo case, which involves over 2 million deposit and credit-card accounts allegedly opened without customer authorization. Prosecutors only learned of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau probe against the bank led by John Stumpf around the time the record fine was announced on Sept. 8, said the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
That means authorities are belatedly tracking down possible witnesses and documents that could be harder to find now that the regulatory case has been settled. Wells Fargo did not admit or deny guilt, but fired about 5,300 employees in relation to the scandal, which dates back to 2011.
In any case, as compiled by Slate, here are 13 questions that the Senate will likely ask the CEO:
- Do you believe that the problems at Wells Fargo went beyond a few rogue employees?
- Is it really possible for thousands of low-level bank employees to thwart the will of senior management for years?
- Why did Carrie Tolstedt, the head of community banking at Wells Fargo, announce her retirement earlier this year and receive a goodbye package worth an estimated $125 million?
- Will Wells Fargo attempt to recoup any of Tolstedt’s goodbye package or other payments?
- Will Wells Fargo attempt to claw back all or part of performance bonuses of other senior employees, including Stumpf's?
- Did the lower-level people fired by Wells Fargo for their part in this scandal receive settlements, too? If so, how much did they receive?
- The Los Angeles City’s Attorney’s office first filed suit against Wells Fargo for this activity in the spring of 2015. The federal government also began looking into the bank later in the year. Why wasn’t this disclosed in corporate filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission?
- Will Wells Fargo continue to fight victims of this scheme who attempt to take them to court?
- Will Wells Fargo continue to stonewall victims who say they suffered significant financial losses because of the actions of their employees?
- What do you know about damage to the credit records and scores of customers?
- Has there been any attempt to quantify how many customers succumbed to pressure from bank employees and signed on for bank products they did not need or even truly want? Will Wells Fargo attempt to track these customers down and make restitution to them, even though they don’t all seem to be part of the settlement with the CFPB?
- This is not the first allegation of fraudulent activities at Wells Fargo in the past decade, nor is it the first settlement. Do you believe Wells Fargo might need to re-examine its culture and values?
- Why do you still have a job?
The best question, however, asked so far belong to Bernie Sanders, who asked not Stumpf, but CFPB head Richard Cordray whether any criminal referrals have been made to the DOJ regarding the Wells matter. We eagerly await the answer.
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