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Wells Fargo CEO Stumpf apologizes, vows that bank will do better

Embroiled in controversy over his bank's deceptive sales practices, Wells Fargo CEO John G. Stumpf apologized to a Senate panel on Tuesday and said the bank is committed to fixing what went wrong.

With the bank on the hot seat and some investors calling for his resignation, Stumpf looked to strike a conciliatory tone.

He said he is "deeply sorry" for conduct that "failed to fulfill our responsibilities to our customers, our team members and the American public."

"In this case, we let our customers down," he said.

The bank paid $185 million in a settlement related to the charges. Senators fired questions at Stumpf, some centering on why the bank allowed the problems to fester for years before taking action. More than 5,000 Wells Fargo workers ultimately were fired in connection with the issues.

"Where was management when so many thousands of people were fired, stories were written, regulators were starting to come?" asked Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

Sen. John Ester said the bank's actions "have done something that hasn't happened in the last 10 years and united this committee on a major topic and not in a good way."

As Stumpf spoke, Wells Fargo shares gained less than 1 percent in early trading, off its high for the session.

Stumpf vowed that the corporate culture will change and said the bank has eliminated the sales goals that led to the problems, which entailed employees cross-selling products to customers, who often were unaware that they had been signed up.

"This is not good for our customers and that is not good for our business," he said. "It's against everything we stand for as a company. That said, I accept full responsibility for all unethical sales practices in our retail banking business, and I am fully committed to fixing this issue, strengthening our culture and taking the necessary actions to restore our company's trust."

"I was stunned when I learned the breadth and duration of the fraud committed by Wells Fargo," Brown said. "I hope today we can understand what went wrong and what needs to be done."

Stumpf admitted that the company was lax in catching the problems, and said it was looking back as far as 2009 when the bank absorbed Wachovia during the financial crisis.

"We just don't want to leave any stone unturned," he said.