Policy

Wells Fargo CEO Apologizes for Sales Practices

Senate Banking chairman places some blame on regulators

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, center, prepares to testify at a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, about the company's unauthorized accounts opened under customers' names. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf said Tuesday he was “deeply sorry” about the bank’s creation of more than 1.5 million bank accounts without customer authorization and added that the bank holding company’s board “has the tools to hold senior leadership accountable, including me and Carrie Tolstedt.”

Tolstedt and her planned departure from the bank with well over $100 million in stock and options has been the focus of ire by Democrats and consumer advocates. She was the head of Wells Fargo’s community banking division where the alleged wrongdoing occurred.

On Sept. 8, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $185 million to a pair of federal regulators, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and to the city and county of Los Angeles, which sued the bank over its sales practices.

In agreements with the regulators and Los Angeles, the company didn't admit guilt, but agreed to pay fines and to make changes in its sales practices and managerial oversight. In testimony, though, Stumpf acknowledged the company’s wrongdoing and apologized for it.

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Stumpf made his comments at a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee. A House hearing on the bank’s sales practices is expected to occur later this month.

Senate Banking Chairman Richard C. Shelby of Alabama pinned at least some of the blame on the CFPB and the comptroller, noting that Los Angeles sued the bank for its practices last year, following a 2013 Los Angeles Times investigation.

“Where were the federal regulators?” Shelby asked. Since the practice dated to at least 2010, “Why did it take an LA Times report to uncover what should have been uncovered by regulators?”

News accounts have referred to Fortune magazine’s estimate that Tolstedt, who resigned as head of community banking in July, had Wells Fargo shares and options valued at $124.6 million. Wells Fargo shares have since dipped and Tolstedt’s shares, if she hasn’t sold them, have fallen in value by nearly $10 million. The drop in stock value moved Wells Fargo down into second place in market value among American banks, now surpassed by JPMorgan Chase.

“I am deeply sorry that we failed to fulfill our responsibility to our customers, to our team members, and to the American public,” Stumpf told senators. He also said that Tolstedt got no severance benefits.

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In a written statement, Stumpf said, “I want to apologize to all Wells Fargo customers. 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.”

“I do want to make very clear that there was no orchestrated effort, or scheme as some have called it, by the company,” he said in his prepared remarks. “We have never directed nor wanted our employees, whom we refer to as team members, to provide products and services to customers they did not want or need.”

Stumpf also said that Wells Fargo would expand its review of its sales practices to include 2009 and 2010.

Wells Fargo’s own analysis, according to the CFPB, found that between May 2011 and July 2015 its employees had opened 1,534,280 bank accounts that may not have been authorized. About 85,000 of the accounts incurred about $2 million in overdraft, monthly service and other fees, which the bank is refunding, the CFPB consent order said.

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