Top executives at Wells Fargo on Thursday brushed aside concerns about the megabank's unexpected failing grade from regulators over its plan to wind down operations in an emergency.
In an interview with American Banker, Chief Financial Officer John Shrewsberry expressed confidence that Wells will make the necessary fixes over the next five months or so.
"The things that we've seen and heard so far are frankly very achievable, and we'll just set about getting it done," he said. "It's nice to get specific feedback because you can actually react to it."
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. flunked Wells, as well as fellow industry heavyweights JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, for their resolution plans.
The rebuke of Wells surprised some observers. Unlike JPMorgan and B of A, the San Francisco bank had received a passing grade in 2014 for an earlier version of its living will.
When Shrewsberry was asked whether Wells took its eye off the ball with respect to its most recent submission, he insisted that was not the case. Instead, he indicated that the regulators previously held Wells to a more lax standard than some of its peers, because those banks were further along in the living-will process.
"A year ago, we were a first-time filer in a group of second-time filers. And then this year, we're appropriately being held to the same standard as all of the third-time filers," he said.
Shrewsberry also suggested that industry regulators have raised their standards for judging all of the banks' resolution plans. "And we need to work a little bit harder to achieve that higher standard," he said.
The Fed and the FDIC laid out their concerns earlier this week in a 10-page letter to Wells. The letter states that Wells' resolution plan contains errors that the agencies deem material. The agencies also criticized the bank for failing to provide necessary detail about how it would resolve itself.
At the same time, the regulators stated that Wells Fargo made progress in certain areas. Those improvements include increasing the bank's supply of high-quality liquid assets, and eliminating a significant number of legal entities following the bank's acquisition of Wachovia Corp. in 2008.
Shrewsberry said that Wells expects to receive more detailed feedback from its regulators in the coming weeks. The bank will face an October deadline for making the necessary improvements. If Wells gets another failing grade, it may face severe consequences, which could theoretically culminate in a forced-break-up.
But Shrewsberry did not sound terribly concerned on Thursday. "It's nothing that we've seen so far that we can't address in the timeframe they've prescribed," he said.
During a conference call with analysts earlier in the day, Shrewsberry pointed out that the regulators did not ding Wells for its capital levels, its liquidity profile, its complexity or its size. The firm has $1.8 billion in assets, behind only JPMorgan and B of A.
Shrewsberry said that the regulators' critique of Wells involved corporate governance and other issues that can be addressed.
"So frankly I don't think we are being criticized by our regulators for the types of things that work their way into the financial press," he said during Wells' first-quarter earnings call.
CEO John Stumpf added, "But certainly we're disappointed in the result, and all hands on deck here."
Stumpf argued that even while Wells Fargo has built its deposit base, its corporate loan book and its wealth management business in recent years, it has become simpler in many respects. He ticked through a series of businesses that Wells has shed.
One analyst asked Stumpf whether the bank's shotgun marriage with Wachovia during the financial crisis was creating problems today.
"No," he answered. "We own this, and we're going to get this right."