In 2013, the Los Angeles Times broke the story of an immense scandal involving the fraudulent opening of accounts in customers’ names at Wells Fargo, the giant San Francisco-based bank which operates in all 50 states and has more than a quarter-million employees.
Subsequent investigations showed that employees pressured to meet quotas on generating new business had opened up to 2.1 million unwanted checking, savings and credit-card accounts from 2011 to 2015. This led to a $185 million federal fine and a settlement of a class-action lawsuit that will cost the iconic California company at least $142 million.
The scandal led to the firing of about 5,300 sales agents and, eventually, the resignation of CEO John Stumpf. But a strong case can be made that the lower-level employees were scapegoated. Top managers set the new account quotas and tolerated mass fraud until caught by journalists.
Now there is more evidence that Wells Fargo has a corrupt corporate culture. The New York Times obtained an internal report showing that from 2012 to 2016, more than 800,000 people who got auto loans from the bank were charged for insurance they didn’t need, leading to more than 24,000 vehicles being repossessed and causing about 274,000 customers to become delinquent on their loans.
Another federal fine and a class-action lawsuit loom. But that’s not enough. For Wells Fargo to regain its once-hallowed reputation, shareholders need to send a stronger signal than the one they sent by re-electing all 15 of the bank’s directors at an annual meeting in April. It’s time for fresh blood.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE