Wells Fargo adds new top lobbyist to help revive image in Washington

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Wells Fargo has hired a new head lobbyist in Washington, as the bank works to restore its standing after a series of consumer-abuse scandals that have tarnished its brand and infuriated lawmakers.

Brian Smith, 52, will join Wells next month, according to a memo sent out by William Daley, the bank’s vice chairman of public affairs. Smith, who spent the past decade with Regions Financial, will be in charge of the government relations and public policy team for Wells, the memo said.

“A highly innovative, creative leader, Brian’s experience uniquely positions him to provide strategic counsel and leadership as we further develop and implement Wells Fargo’s approach to enhancing our reputation among elected officials, policymakers, and other constituents,” Daley wrote.

Smith, who also has lobbied for Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Wells Fargo, the nation’s fourth-largest bank, has had a tough time in Washington since the 2016 revelation that its employees had opened millions of accounts for customers without their knowledge. Two of its chief executives, John Stumpf and Tim Sloan, quit after being battered on Capitol Hill, where critics contended they presided over a corporate culture that valued profits over integrity.

Last year the San Francisco-based lender brought in former Bank of New York Mellon CEO Charlie Scharf to lead its turnaround efforts.

A major consequence of its scandals is that Wells Fargo has been operating under an unusual and tough Federal Reserve order that caps its assets at its year-end 2017 level until it shows reforms. The central bank temporarily modified the sanction earlier this month so that Wells can participate in coronavirus relief lending efforts.

The hiring of Smith drew praise in the Washington financial services community as a sign that the bank is committed to cleaning up its problems. Bank Policy Institute President Greg Baer, whose trade group counts Wells as a member, called Smith “one of the most-liked lobbyists in town” and “smart, effective and plugged in.”

Smith will replace David Moskowitz, who said in December that he planned to retire.

Bloomberg News
Lobbying Law and regulation Crime and misconduct Wells Fargo Charles Scharf