Slideshow Eight Times Stumpf Was Hammered by Senators

Published
  • September 21 2016, 2:19pm EDT
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It was never going to be a good hearing for Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, but his performance Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee was widely panned. Called to answer for millions of phony accounts being opened, Stumpf didn't know the answers to many of the lawmakers' questions and distanced himself from the board which he chairs. Lawmakers from both parties were highly critical. The following were some of Stumpf's worst moments:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., lit into Stumpf early on, accusing him of "gutless leadership" because he pushed the blame to lower-level employees "who don't have the money for a fancy PR firm to defend themselves." It got worse from there, as Warren produced transcripts from 12 quarterly earnings calls where Stumpf touted Wells Fargo's ability to cross-sell. Warren finished up by calling on Stumpf to quit: "You should resign. You should give back the money that you took while this scam was going on and you should be criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission."

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Sen. Richard Shelby

Senate Banking Chairman Richard Shelby gave no quarter to Stumpf either, grilling him over compensation provided to Carrie Tolstedt, the former retail banking head who announced her retirement in July. During an extended Q&A session, Stumpf tried to dodge questions about clawing back some of Tolstedt's pay.

"I'm not an expert in compensation," Stumpf said.

"Are you the chairman? Are you the CEO of the company, right?"

When Stumpf confirmed that he was both, Shelby continued.

"The buck stops here, so to speak," Shelby said. "So are you going to look into this seriously about what this person did, her responsibility, and the big reward that she's getting that happened under her watch?"


Sen. Robert Menendez

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., pushed back against Stumpf's contention that this was the work of 5,300 rogue employees rather than the result of a culture at Wells that encouraged cutting corners to meet sales goals.

"This isn't the work of 5,300 bad apples," Menendez told Stumpf. "This is the work and the result of sowing seeds that rotted the entire orchard. …You and your senior executives created an environment in which this culture of deception and deceit thrive."


Sen. Patrick Toomey

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., took Stumpf to task when the Wells Fargo CEO wouldn't say whether he believed opening fake accounts constituted the legal definition of fraud. But he also pressed the banker on what may become a much larger story — whether the bank disclosed the investigation into phony accounts in Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Stumpf at first claimed he didn't know if it had been disclosed, but Toomey said he'd checked.

"We haven't been able to discover such a disclosure, and the SEC very clearly requires disclosure of material adverse circumstances," Toomey said. "And I don't know how this could not be deemed material. I think the market cap lost 9% over the last couple of weeks — that's pretty material."

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Sen. Jon Tester

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., noted that Stumpf had managed the impossible by uniting "this committee on a major topic — and not in a good way." But he also seized on the possible damage the phony accounts could have done to customers' credit scores.

When Stumpf tried to emphasize that only 1% of Wells' workforce had been responsible for the misconduct, Tester said that raised a different problem.

"Every time you say that, you give ammunition to the folks who want to break up the big banks," Tester said. "5,300 people are more people than live in most towns in Montana. Two million people is twice the population of the entire state. This is a major screw-up that went on for far, far, far, far too long. And I think you know that."


Sen. David Vitter

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., questioned why Stumpf wasn't told about the fraud until 2013 when the bank first began firing employees in 2011. Indeed, Stumpf said about 1,000 employees were fired in 2011.

"Is it normal for 1% of a business unit to be fired over fraud — not high turnover, not incompetence, [but] fraud — and this never is mentioned to you?" Vitter asked.

When Stumpf said it was relatively normal, Vitter argued that it proved the case some institutions were too big to manage.

"Why isn't this crystal-clear proof that an entity as big as Wells is not only 'too big to fail' but it's too big to manage and it's too big to regulate?" he asked. "One percent of a big part of your business is fired over fraud but that doesn't rise to your level?"


Sen. Heidi Heitkamp

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., raised questions about how Stumpf could be trusted, given that the bank has repeatedly said it was handling the problem yet it went on for more than four years.

In 2011, "there's something going on and Wells Fargo is addressing it," she said. "At [20]13, there's something going on and addressing it. At [20]15, there's something going on and Wells Fargo is addressing it.

"But yet, it didn't get done and now, you're coming to us and saying, trust us, we now get it," she said. "I'm one of your customers. My whole family is. You aren't doing what you need to do to restore customer confidence, but you're also not doing what you need to do to restore confidence with this committee and with the American public."

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Sen. Jeff Merkley

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., went after Stumpf's defense that lower-level employees should have let upper managers know this type of behavior was going on. He cited specific employees who raised questions about Wells' sales tactics, many of whom were later fired as a result.

"Let's talk about Yesenia Guitron who in 2008, after being hired for two months, found that this was happening — these false accounts were happening," Merkley said. "She went to her trainer, then she went to her manager, and she was pushed very hard to shut up in all kinds of different ways."

She filed a whistleblower suit but was later fired anyway because Wells claimed she didn't meet her sales goals, according to Merkley.

When Stumpf said he accepted full responsibility, Merkley let him have it.

"Full responsibility for establishing a culture that put people in impossible situations would be to resign," Merkley said. "It would be to return your funds and help fund assistance for all these people who were fired because of the culture you established and that you personally benefit an enormous amount from."