The matter of wells Fargo represents a case study in a lot of things: corporate fraud, deniability, responsibility and ultimately believability. And it’s not very pretty.
Wells Fargo has admitted that thousands of its employees, pressured to meet aggressive sale goals, opened fake accounts in the names of customers unaware of what was going on, sometimes forging their signatures and imposing fraudulent fees. When that behavior was publicly discovered, the bank fired more than 5,000 of its lower-paid employees. Can you say the word ??? The bank agreed to a $185 million settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — but with no admission of guilt. That was a mistake by the government. What is needed is not merely a settlement but a resolution, and that must involve penalties starting at the top.
Wells’ President John G. Stumpf (rhymes with Trumpf?) says he regrets the bank’s actions — wow — and will do everything to change the culture and see that such things don’t happen again. And, by the way, no top executives at the bank will be fired. Or prosecuted. If that seems like responsible CEO leadership, then you must be a banker.
Will the justice Department move against this obviously criminal behavior by Wells Fargo? According to department guidelines, legal action can follow when “the pervasivness of wrongdoing within the corporation, including the complicity in, or the condoning of, the wrongdoing by corporate management” is apparent. As it apparently is in this case.
Mt. Stumpf is not getting his outrageous salary cut in the least, in spite of the fact that the bank has known what was going on for at least five years, and it was made public by a report in the Los Angeles Times in 2013. And then there’s this: the executive who oversaw this sales program at Wells, Carrie Tolstedt, is leaving the bank. Was she fired? We don’t know, but she’s leaving. But not until the end of the year. And she’s getting an obscene send-off worth at least $100 million. That’s not responsible It’s criminal. And the justice department needs to take action.
Where were the bank’s directors during the times this was going on? Clearly there was no oversight. And if the directors’ weren’t informed, then Mr. Stumpf and others at Wells Fargo should be held accountable for irresponsible corporate behavior in hiding such issues.
Lastly, there are others to blame. Republicans, for instance, who wondered aloud at the recent Congressional hearings why federal regulators didn’t detect this legal activity before now. One reason is because Republicans have sought for years to gut the Dodd-Frank bill and its regulatory statutes and the [people whose jobs are overseeing corporations. Republicans have advocated fewer regulations for everyone. and guess what: when that happened, this happened. And Democrats don’t get off lightly either. But all of this should be firmly placed inside a prosecution by the federal government. That’s would be the responsibility we most need to see now.