Wells Fargo claws back another $75 mn from former executives


Wells Fargo (Swiss: WFC-USD.SW - news) took back another $75 million in pay from two former executives who played key roles in the bank's fake accounts scandal, the bank's board announced Monday.

The US banking giant said it demanded or "clawed back" an additional $28 million from former chief executive John Stumpf, who led the bank at the time of the scandal, and $47 million from former community banking chief Carrie Tolstedt, whose division was at the heart of the problem.

Together with an earlier round of punishments of the two senior executives, Wells Fargo has clawed back a total of $69 million from Stumpf and $67 million from Tolstedt.

The moves came as Wells Fargo, a leader in consumer and mortgage banking, released a 110-page report analyzing the factors behind the scandal that involved opening of about two million deposit and credit card accounts without the customers' approval or knowledge.

Wells Fargo has been castigated by politicians and analysts since news of the scandal broke in September 2016 when the bank reached a settlement with regulators to pay $185 million.

Since that time, Wells Fargo has replaced its chief executive and announced a series of reforms, such as eliminating product sales goals in retail banking. However, the bank continues to face numerous government probes of the matter.

The report, undertaken by the Wells Fargo board and with help from the Shearman & Sterling law firm, said ex-CEO Stumpf "was too slow to investigate or critically challenge sales practices in the Community Bank (Other OTC: CYHT - news) ," nor did he "appreciate the seriousness of the problem and the substantial reputational risk to Wells Fargo."

In addition, a decentralized structure gave "too much autonomy to the Community Bank's senior leadership, who were unwilling to change the sales model or even recognize it as the root cause of the problem."

The report sheds light how the bank's desire to show strong growth on cross-selling -- the practice of convincing existing clients to open new accounts -- led to ethical breaches and created a brutal sales-first culture.

Managers within Community Banking exerted "significant, and in some cases, extreme pressure on employees to meet or exceed their goals," sometimes calling subordinates several times a day to check on sales, the report said.

The bank fired many low-ranking employees for opening the fake accounts, but there was little questioning of the role of perverse incentives as a factor in the scandal.

"There was a disinclination among the Community Bank's senior leadership, regardless of the scope of improper behavior or the number of terminated employees, to see the problem as systemic," the report said.

"It was common to blame employees who violated Wells Fargo's rules without analyzing what caused or motivated them to do so."

- Board shakeup next? -

Community bank executives also minimized the extent of the dismissals in their interactions with the board. In all, 5,300 employees were fired due to sales practice violations, a figure the board did not learn of until the bank settled with regulators in September.

The report comes ahead of Wells Fargo's April 25 annual meeting, where board members are facing the risk of a shareholder revolt.

Shareholder advisory groups Institutional Shareholders Services and Glass Lewis have recommended the ousting of several board members.

The report largely exonerated chief executive Tim Sloan, who was portrayed as trying to get a grasp on the extent of the problem and as less deferential to Tolstedt than predecessor Stumpf.

"We accept the Board's findings as a critical part of our journey to rebuild trust," Sloan said in a statement Monday.

"While we have already made significant progress in making things right with customers and addressing issues, including several issues identified in the investigation, the Board's comprehensive findings provide another important opportunity to learn from our mistakes."

Shares (Berlin: DI6.BE - news) of Wells Fargo dipped 0.2 percent to $54.74 in afternoon trading.