Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan is defiant in the face of critics who argue that the scandal-plagued bank needs a new leader.
“I don’t think I’m a liability for the company,” Sloan said Wednesday. “The moment that I would ever think that, I would step aside. I’m not going to step aside because I’m an asset for this company. We’re moving the company forward.”
Sloan, a longtime Wells executive who has been CEO for just over a year, is under fire on several fronts.
He continues to draw heat for failing, during earlier stints in various leadership roles at Wells, to stop the fraudulent sales practices that eventually damaged the bank’s reputation. During a congressional hearing earlier this month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called for Sloan to be fired.
In a CNBC interview, host Wilfred Frost asked Sloan if he lied during a June 2016 interview with American Banker when he denied that Wells had pushed its cross-selling strategy to the limit. That interview took place just three months before Wells acknowledged that its employees had created more than two million potentially unauthorized customer accounts.
“What do you say to the investors that bought, reassured after three years of negative press on the cross-selling issue?” Frost asked.
“I didn’t lie to shareholders, and I didn’t lie to any of our stakeholders,” Sloan responded.
When pressed again to justify his 2016 remarks, Sloan sought to draw a distinction between cross-selling at Wells Fargo as a whole and cross-selling in the bank’s retail banking unit.
“Again, we’re talking about the bank. We had an issue within our retail banking business. And we’ve dealt with that since I’ve become CEO,” Sloan said.
Sloan is also feeling pressure to improve the $1.9 trillion-asset bank's financial performance.
In the third quarter of 2017, average loans in the company’s retail banking unit were down 3%, as compared with the same period a year earlier. Within the last year, Wells has overhauled how it compensates branch employees, placing more emphasis on base salary and less on sales-related bonuses.
During the CNBC interview, Sloan acknowledged that the scandal has hurt the bank’s consumer lending business.
“The primary impact has been referral activity from our branches,” he said. “But we’re seeing that improve over the last couple of quarters. It’s not back to where it was a year ago because of all the changes that we’ve been making in our retail bank.”
Shares in San Francisco-based Wells have risen by 18% since the scandal blossomed in September 2016, far below the market gains of its peers over that same span. Asked Wednesday if Wells Fargo will ever be able to fully rebound from the scandal, Sloan said, “I’m very optimistic and confident that over time we’ll achieve growth rates we’ve seen historically.