Sen. Sherrod Brown, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, sharply criticized Wells Fargo on Friday for failing to respond to questions about the phony-accounts scandal, including when the board and top executives first learned of the illegal sales practices.
Wells either ignored or provided insufficient answers to some of the 58 questions submitted in late September by Democrats on the banking panel, Brown said. In some cases, Wells did not answer questions directly, citing an ongoing investigation by its board.
For example, Wells could not quantify how many employees were disciplined for not meeting sales goals, and the bank declined to say how much pay former CEO John Stumpf received over the years for cross-selling activities.
Brown said he will continue to prod the bank for answers.
"It seems unlikely that Wells Fargo can restore the trust of its customers if it continues to ignore or dodge basic questions about the causes and consequences of the fraud that it permitted for years," Brown said. "The bank's illegal actions and its continued stonewalling show why so many hardworking Americans believe the system is rigged against them in Wall Street's favor. This issue isn't going away and I will do everything in my power to make sure the Banking Committee keeps pushing to get to the bottom of it, so we can protect customers from being cheated again."
Brown said Wells refused to provide precise dates for when Stumpf, the board and Carrie Tolstedt, the head of retail banking, first learned that employees "were defrauding customers nationwide." He also said Wells failed to provide email and other correspondence between Stumpf, Tolstedt and the board related "to the fraud."
Wells was thrust into a reputational crisis on Sept. 8 when it agreed to pay $190 million to settle charges that employees created 2 million sham accounts to meet aggressive sales targets. Wells fired roughly 5,300 employees between 2011 and 2014 for creating the unlawful accounts.
Stumpf stepped down from the bank in October after the board stripped him of $41 million in compensation. Former retail banking head Carrie Tolstedt left in late September after she was stripped of $19 million in compensation.
Wells still has not shed much light on what Tolstedt knew and when she knew it. In response to senators' questions, Wells said that it "cannot determine for certain the first time Ms. Tolstedt was told that a team member's employment was terminated for committing a sales violation."
Democrats on the committee also have not received minutes from Wells' board or compensation committee describing the discussion of the settlement, the impact on Tolstedt's decision to retire and her final pay.
Additionally, Wells has refused to allow customers to file lawsuits against the company for the illegal sales practices. Customers who were harmed are forced to arbitrate disputes, Brown said.
In response to Brown's criticism, Wells said that it had provided answers to each of the more than 350 questions from the entire Senate Banking Committee. Brown only released answers to the questions from Democrats on the panel.
The bank said that despite the pending independent board investigation and other pending legal actions, the bank has been "very responsive" to lawmakers.
"We have work underway to fix identified problems and resolve the sales practices issue," Wells said in an emailed statement. "This includes making a change in the leadership of the retail bank, refunding $2.6 million to impacted customers and eliminating product sales goals."
Many of the Democrats' questions related to the timeline of events, including when senior executives first learned of the illegal sales practices and what they did about it.
Before 2012, Wells responded to unauthorized accounts "as they were brought to its attention by customers and bank team members" as a normal part of the business. Sometime in 2012, risk managers began to "proactively monitor sales-integrity issues" by tracking how many accounts were opened and closed within 30 days.
Wells said it first began to identify employees who opened the illegal accounts in 2013, which led to the first of several articles published in the Los Angeles Times. The bank made changes to its policies and procedures in 2014.
The Los Angeles city attorney filed a lawsuit against Wells in May 2015. A month later, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency sent a supervisory letter to Wells with five matters requiring attention that were all related to cross-selling and the bank's emphasis on product sales.