“Eight rhymes with great.” That’s the reason that Wells Fargo demanded that its employees squeeze eight accounts out of every customer—and the reason that employees were fired if they failed. (Do you have eight bank accounts with your bank of choice?) Then, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) emphatically announced during a Senate hearing, CEO John Stumpf fired employees for “cheating” employees and went off to get hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation. CEO John Stumpf claims that Wells Fargo knew nothing about these scams until the LA Times published information about it in 2013 although it appeared to have started as early as 2011.
The scam came to light when it was discovered that battered employees opened unneeded accounts for customers, ordered them credit cards without their permission, and forged client signatures. Employees begged family members to open ghost accounts and opened duplicate accounts for themselves. A homeless woman was talked into opening six checking and savings accounts with fees of $39 per month. When the forced scams were discovered, Wells Fargo fired 30 workers just in southern California, and other workers were put on leave. A total of 5,300 lower-level employees had to leave Wells Fargo. Senior-level executives kept their jobs.
The purpose of the scam was to drive up stock value, and Wells Fargo reported a $5.6 billion quarterly profit last year in October. The bank averaged 6.15 financial products per household—almost four times the industry average. A former branch manager said that if he didn’t make his goal that he was “severely chastised and embarrassed in front of 60-plus managers in your area by the community banking president.”
Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $185 million in fines but won’t admit wrongdoing. It claims that the company will end its aggressive sales targets in another three months by January 1.
Carrie Tolstedt, the executive in charge of the division causing the problems, retired—instead of being fired—in July with a payout of $100 million and the hopes that more compensation throughout the coming year. Stumpf said that he talked to her weekly during the three years after the fake accounts were revealed and employees were being fired. Despite the illegal activity, he didn’t fire her because she did well with branding and improving customer loyalty.
Asked if the bank plans to “clawback” compensation for these acts from the top-level bank employees who make millions, Stumpf said that the responsibility lay with the bank’s board. He is the board chairman but said that he could not get involved and doesn’t plan to “prejudice their process.” Also asked how the bank will help customers with damaged credit ratings from the fake accounts or whether the case is one of fraud, Stumpf said that he was not a lawyer, a compensation expert, or a credit consultant. After being a micro-manager for many years, Stumpf now depicts himself as an innocent bystander.
Warren showed 12 transcripts of Wells Fargo earnings in which Stump “personally cited Wells Fargo’s success at cross-selling retail accounts as one of the main reasons to buy more stock in the company.” When Stumpf refused to answer how much his Wells Fargo stock holdings had gained during these three years, she said that his 6.75 million shares had increased by $30 each during that time—more than $200 million in gains from employees forcing customers to each have the “Great Eight” accounts. Much of Stumpf’s increase in wealth came from the creation of 200 million fraudulent accounts. As Warren announced in the hearing, Stumpf is not resigning, not returning any of his earnings from fraudulent actions, and not firing any senior executives.
In chastising Stumpf’s actions, Warren said:
“Here’s what really gets me about this, Mr. Stumpf. If one of your tellers took a handful of $20 bills out of the crash drawer, they’d probably be looking at criminal charges for theft. They could end up in prison. But you squeezed your employees to the breaking point so they would cheat customers and you could drive up the value of your stock and put hundreds of millions of dollars in your own pocket. And when it all blew up, you kept your job, you kept your multi-multimillion-dollar bonuses, and you went on television to blame thousands of $12-an-hour employees who were just trying to meet cross-sell quotas that made you rich.”
In yesterday’s hearing, Warren accused Stumpf of “gutless leadership” and called for his resignation. She also demanded that he return his personal compensation and face criminal investigation. Hillary Clinton wrote, “We need to make sure that no financial institution is too big to manage. And if any bank can’t be managed effectively, it should be broken up.” According to Democratic legislators, Wells Fargo and Stumpf highlight the reason for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that GOP leaders want to dismantle.
Senate Republicans, especially those up for re-election, didn’t defend Stumpf’s wrongdoing. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) called it “fraud,” but last year he fought to eliminate the CFPB. Republicans claim that Stumpf is an example of their belief that regulations don’t do any good.
Stumpf’s tentacles go much farther than just Wells Fargo: he serves on the Federal Advisory Council, 12 bankers who guide the Federal Reserve’s board members on U.S. financial policy and act as the nation’s leading bank regulator.
Donald Trump has said nothing about John Strumpf; he has his own fraud issues. Weeks ago, a few media sources published information about the illegal campaign donation from Trump’s charitable foundation, totally composed of other people’s money, to keep the fraudulent Trump University from being investigated in Florida. More recently, Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold revealed much greater wrongdoing. Using the Trump Foundation as his personal slush fund, Trump took $258,000 to again benefit himself, this time to pay his businesses’ fines. Jeffrey Tenenbaum, who advises charities at the Venable law firm in Washington, said, “I represent 700 nonprofits a year, and I’ve never encountered anything so brazen.” Trump has been known to say, “There’s nothing like doing things with other people’s money.”
GOP VP candidate, Mike Pence, attempted to defend his new boss. After the Trump campaign accused the article about the “slush fund” of being “peppered with inaccuracies,” MSNBC Brian Williams asked Pence what they were. Pence couldn’t identify any. The campaign staff couldn’t name any specific “inaccuracies” either.
GuideStar, an organization that tracks nonprofits, compared the foundations connected with the presidential candidates and found that the Clinton Foundation is he more transparent of the two. It tracks the Foundation’s philanthropic programs to determine the number of people benefitting, such as women getting job training. The Trump Foundation has no such tracking; the report said that it would “appear to indicate an unfocused generosity.” The Clintons also most likely donated more money to charity than the Trumps—who haven’t donated more than $10,000 in the past several years. But no one knows for sure because Donald Trump refuses to release his tax returns.
Asked about their candidate’s use of a charitable foundation to illegally satisfy his personal needs, House Republicans who skewered the Clinton Foundation either said that they hadn’t heard anything about problems with the Trump Foundation or that the conservative Washington Post is a Democratic propaganda machine. Once again, Clinton is judged by a different standard as the Clinton Foundation, which has not been found of any wrongdoing, is used against her, and the illegal activities of the Trump Foundation are ignored by millions of people.