Wells Fargo CEO Evades Critical Questions During Congressional Grilling

Wells Fargo Chief Executive Officer John Stumpf testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, before the Senate Banking Committee. Stumpf was called before the committee for betraying customers' trust in a scandal over allegations that employees opened millions of unauthorized accounts to meet aggressive sales targets. (AP …

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf testified before the Senate Banking Commitee Tuesday and was asked multiple times of his knowledge of the company’s recent fraudulent account scam.

When asked by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), Chairman for the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, whether the problem began in 2011 or before, Stumpf replied, “I can’t guarantee it did not happen before that time.”

When pressed more, Stumpf added that after a couple of years of dealing with the problem, it was brought to the corporate compliance level, “and that’s when [he] became much more aware of the issue.”

As for the time frame of when this all occurred, Stumpf said he and some other corporate executives knew about the fraud in 2013, but “before that it was being dealt with with the audit and compliance within the business unit.”

At the opening of the hearing, Shelby stated that one of his primary goals in the hearing was to find out when the conduct started and when Stumpf become aware. He further wanted to uncover what Stumpf’s response was and, though it is now public knowledge that 5,300 employees were fired over the opening of accounts without customers’ knowledge, what consequences have other employees that were not fired faced?

Shelby had opened the session stating, “It appears that Wells Fargo’s own analysis concluded that thousands of its employees opened more than 2 million accounts that may not have been authorized. Subsequently Wells Fargo terminated approximately 5,300 employees and has agreed to pay $185 million in fines and $5 million in customer remediation.”

Multiple times during the hearing, 2013 reports from the Los Angeles Times were mentioned for their part in uncovering the massive fraud. It was this reporting, according to comments made in the hearing, that led the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office to investigate the company’s sales practices. Shelby noted that thousands of hours of investigation undertaken by a dozen city attorneys led to a May 2015 lawsuit against the financial giant. “If the OCC and the CFPB were aware of these issues before the L.A. City Attorney’s lawsuit, why did they wait until 2016 to bring an enforcement action?” Shelby asked.

Stumpf testified that Wells Fargo conducted an internal review using accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers. They reviewed 82 million deposit accounts and 11 million credit card accounts dating back as far as 2011 and up through 2015, though Stumpf said in the Tuesday hearing that the bank will be conducting further analysis of 2009 and 2010 records. The review that dates back to 2011 found extensive numbers of potentially unauthorized accounts.

“1.5 million deposit accounts and 565,000 consumer credit card accounts were identified as accounts that may have been unauthorized,” Shelby stated.

In Stumpf’s initial hearing comments, he said, “I am deeply sorry that we failed to fulfill on our responsibility to our customers, to our team members, and to the American public. I have been through many challenges with Wells Fargo, but none of which pains me more than the one we will discuss this morning.”

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