Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wells Fargo CEO Stumpf: 'Gutless leadership'

Sen. Warren: Stumpf should be criminally investigated
Sen. Warren: Stumpf should be criminally investigated

Sen. Elizabeth Warren relentlessly pressed Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf on Tuesday during the Senate committee hearing on Wells Fargo's account-opening practices.

The Democratic senator questioned his accountability and the stock gains he profited from during the time millions of unauthorized accounts were opened at the bank, ultimately recommending he resign, return the money he earned during that time and be criminally investigated by the SEC and the Department of Justice.

Here is their full exchange:

Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Stumpf, Wells Fargo's vision and values statement, which you frequently cite says: "We believe in values lived not phrases memorized. If you want to find out how strong a company's ethics are, don't listen to what its people say, watch what they do." So, let's do that. Since this massive years-long scam came to light, you have said repeatedly: "I am accountable." But what have you actually done to hold yourself accountable? Have you resigned as CEO or chairman of Wells Fargo?

Stumpf: The board -- I serve --

Warren: Have you resigned?

Stumpf: No, I have not.

Warren: Alright. Have you returned one nickel of the millions of dollars that you were paid while this scam was going on?

Stumpf: Well, first of all, this was by 1 percent of our people.

Warren: That's not my question. This is about responsibility. Have you returned one nickel of the millions of dollars that you were paid while this scam was going on?

Stumpf: The board will take care of that.

Warren: Have you returned one nickel of the money you earned while this scam was going on?

Stumpf: And the board will do --

Warren: I will take that as a no, then. Have you fired a single senior executive? And by that, I don't mean regional manager or branch manager. I'm asking about the people who actually led your community banking division or your compliance division.

Stumpf: We've made a change in our regional — to lead our regional banks —

Warren: I just said I'm not asking regional managers. I'm not asking about branch managers. I'm asking if you have fired senior management, the people who actually led community banking division, who oversaw this fraud or the compliance division that was in charge of making sure that the bank complied with the law.

Stumpf: Carrie Tolsted —

Warren: Did you fire any of those people?

Stumpf: No.

Warren: No. OK, so you haven't resigned, you haven't returned a single nickel of your personal earnings, you haven't fired a single senior executive. Instead evidently your definition of "accountable" is to push the blame to your low-level employees who don't have the money for a fancy PR firm to defend themselves. It's gutless leadership. In your time as chairman and CEO, Wells has been famous for cross-selling, which is pushing existing customers to open more accounts. Cross-selling is one of the main reasons that Wells has become the most valuable bank in the world. Wells measures cross-selling by the number of different accounts a customers has with Wells.

Other big banks average fewer than three accounts per customer. But you set the target at eight. Every customer of Wells should have eight accounts with the bank. And that's not because you ran the numbers and found that the average customer needed eight banking accounts. It is because, "Eight rhymes with great." This was your rationale right there in your 2010 annual report. Cross-selling isn't about helping customers get what they need. If it was, you wouldn't have to squeeze your employees so hard to make it happen. No. Cross-selling is all about pumping up Wells' stock price. Isn't it?

Stumpf: No. Cross-selling is shorthand for deepening relationships. We only do well —

Warren: Let me stop you right there. You say no? Here are the transcripts of 12 quarterly earnings calls that you participated in from 2012 to 2014, the three full years in which we know this scam was going on. I would like to submit them for the record if I may, Mr. Chair. Thank you. These are calls where you personally made your pitch to investors and analysts about why Wells Fargo is a great investment. And in all 12 of these calls, you personally cited Wells Fargo's success at cross-selling retail accounts as one of the main reasons to buy more stock in the company. Let me read you a few quotes that you had.

April 2012: "We grew our retail banking cross-sell ratio to a record 5.98 products per household." A year later, April 2013: "We achieved record retail banking cross-sell of 6.1 products per household. April 2014: "We achieved record retail banking cross-sell of 6.17 products per household." The ratio kept going up and up. It didn't matter whether customers used those accounts or not. And guess what? Wall Street loved it. Here is just a sample of the reports from top analysts in those years. All recommending that people buy Wells Fargo stock, in part, because of the strong cross-sell numbers. I would like to submit them for the record.

Chair: No objections.

Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chair. When investors saw good cross-sell numbers, they did, while this scam was going on. That was very good for you, personally, wasn't it, Mr. Stumpf? Do you know how much money, how much value your stock holdings in Wells Fargo gained while this scam was underway?

Stumpf: First of all, it was not a scam. And cross-sell is a way of deepening relationships. When customers...

Warren: We've been through this, Mr. Stumpf. I asked you a very simple question. Do you know how much the value of your stock went up while this scam was going on?

Stumpf: It's.... all of my compensation is in our public filing—

Warren: Do you know how much it was?

Stumpf: It's all in the public filing.

Warren: You're right. It is all in the public records because I looked it up. While this scam was going on, you personally held an average of 6.75 million shares of Wells stock. The share price during this time period went up by about $30, which comes out to more than $200 million in gains, all for you personally. And thanks, in part, to those cross sell numbers that you talked about on every one of those calls. You know, here is what really gets me about this, Mr. Stumpf. If one of your tellers took a handful of $20 bills out of the cash drawer, they probably would 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 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. This is about accountability. You should resign.

You should give back the money that you took while this scam was going on and you should be criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission. This just isn't right. A cashier who steals a handful of twenties is held accountable. But Wall Street executives who almost never hold themselves accountable. Not now, and not in 2008 when they crushed the worldwide economy. The only way that Wall Street will change is if executives face jail time when they preside over massive frauds. We need tough new laws to hold corporate executives personally accountable and we need tough prosecutors who have the courage to go after people at the top. Until then, it will be business as usual. And at giant banks like Wells Fargo that seems to mean cheating as many customers, investors and employees as they possibly can. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

CORRECTION: In April 2014, Wells Fargo reported it achieved record retail banking cross-sell of 6.17 products per household, according to documents offered to the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday. That figure was misstated in an earlier version of this article.