WASHINGTON — A top official at the Federal Reserve said Friday that many banks still have a long way to go to root out wrongdoing in their ranks, and that regulators — and even the Department of Justice — need to hold individuals accountable.
In an interview Friday morning on CNBC, Federal Reserve Gov. Daniel Tarullo, who heads the central bank's supervisory committee, said that many banks still have room to improve their processes for clearly explaining and enforcing a culture of ethics and compliance.
"I don't think [bank culture has] changed enough, and I think we see evidence of that in our own supervisory work," Tarullo said. "What I have seen is that too many banks, instead of putting in place a comprehensive system for ensuring that all employees understand what is legal and ethical across the board, only respond when there's a particular problem. And for banks that are in that situation, they really need to change. They really need to be much more proactive in stating their expectations across a range of behaviors to their employees."
Tarullo's comments came in response to a question about Wells Fargo — one of the country's biggest banks and one that prides itself on its customer service record — which agreed Thursday to a $190 million settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau amid claims that thousands of employees had opened unauthorized customer accounts to collect bonuses for themselves.
Tarullo declined to speak specifically about the Wells case because it was in the CFPB's jurisdiction, but said anecdotally that many banks' compliance programs are similar to their risk management programs before the crisis — reactive, siloed and ad hoc. He added that those banks "need to be much more proactive in stating their expectations across a range of behaviors to their employees."
He also said that regulators should use the tools they have available to hold individuals accountable for their misdeeds in addition to fining the institutions themselves — a practice that has drawn widespread criticism as being an insufficient deterrent to bad behavior.
"There is a need, I think, for a focus on individuals as well as the fines put on the institutions," Tarullo said. "In appropriate cases, prohibition orders [and] — obviously this is a much higher standard — but for Justice Department prosecutions are things that do need to be pursued in order to make the point that there is individual culpability as well as collective [responsibility]."
The allegations against Wells Fargo began after the Los Angeles Times published a story outlining the allegations, which said that the practice of opening unwanted accounts was nationwide and had occurred from 2011 through 2014. The bank initially denied the accuracy of the story, but acknowledged wrongdoing in Thursday's settlement and fired more than 5,300 employees engaged in the misconduct.
In November 2014 banks settled allegations of widespread manipulation of the foreign exchange markets for $2.4 billion. That scandal came on the heels of an even bigger settlement related to widespread and deliberate manipulation of the Libor interest rate benchmark.