WASHINGTON — Stephen Colbert mocked big banks in his Comedy Central show on Feb. 14, raising concerns about why institutions are still "too big to fail," and suggesting that viewing Wells Fargo's balance sheet could melt a person's face.
As he often does, Colbert pretended to like big banks, saying that liberals should let go of their anger stemming from the financial crisis.
"At this point, who can even remember who wired the global financial system to a roulette wheel jacked up on enough cocaine to bring down a bison?" Colbert asked.
He then suggested the government shouldn't prosecute financial institutions for their role in the crisis, saying that he believed "an investigation will just make things worse."
"I don't think the banks are in any financial position to reveal what kind of financial position they're in," Colbert said. "Take Wells Fargo. Their recent annual report said the bank's value is partly based on 'significant assumptions not observable in the market.'
"That means the value of the largest capitalized bank in the United States defies observation. The human mind cannot perceive it; we dare not look upon it. Remember what happened to the accountants who opened Lehman Brothers' books."
The latter comment was followed up with a video of the ending of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in which a Nazi's face melts after opening the Ark of the Covenant.
But Colbert wasn't finished. In a video segment that featured former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair, he called out Wells Fargo for firing a call center employee once his criminal past was uncovered.
Richard Eggers was convicted in 1963, when he was 18 years old, of creating a cardboard coin and attempting to use it as a prank at the local Laundromat.
Although Eggers had been an employee of Wells for many years in its West Des Moines' mortgage call center — and the crime occurred 50 years ago — the company fired him once it discovered his conviction.
"For confidence to be restored to our global financial institutions, a mortgage call center employee from West Des Moines must be held accountable," Colbert said.
Bair was initially set up as the heavy, saying on camera that "criminals have no place in banking. Banking is all about public trust."
But when she heard the particulars of Eggers crime, Bair seemed stunned the bank would take such a step.
"That's a little extreme," she said. "I don't know what to say to that."
In the piece, Wells Fargo responded that "once we know someone has a criminal record involving dishonesty or breach of trust, we can no longer employ them."
In an e-mail to American Banker, a Wells spokeswoman said the bank offered Eggers his job back once he received a waiver from the FDIC, working in the same location with the same team — "with no negative impact to his benefits, retirement or vacation time."
But the spokeswoman said Eggers rejected the offer and demanded "a number of unreasonable conditions."
"Mr. Eggers and his lawyer have not recognized our responsibility to apply the law equitably and fairly for all of our team members," the spokeswoman said. "In fact, the same waiver process is available to all impacted team members and several of them followed the process, successfully obtaining a waiver from the FDIC, and returned to work. Again, it was our hope that Mr. Eggers would accept our offer to return to work as a team member for Wells Fargo and we are disappointed he has chosen not to."