The Departure of Wells Fargo's CFO Is Still a Mystery

Howard Atkins, CFO, Wells Fargo
Howard Atkins, CFO, Wells Fargo

What led to the abrupt departure of Wells Fargo Chief Financial Officer Howard Atkins?

There's a lot of speculation in banking circles right now about what could behind the resignation, which took everyone by surprise.

Chris Whalen, of Institutional Risk Analytics, told clients in a four-page report that Atkins left over a dispute regarding "aggressive" accounting at the bank.

"The departure of Atkins, we are led to believe, was not merely the result of personal issues, but reflects an ongoing internal dispute within (Wells Fargo's) executive suite regarding the banks disclosure," Whalen wrote in his report.

Others say that the departure stems from a heated argument between Atkins and the CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumpf. Still others say that there could be even more personal reasons for Atkins leaving.

But the truth is that no one knows—which is troubling in itself. When top officers abruptly leave companies, it is often a sign that something has been going wrong for some time. Such high level departures often foreshadow bad news.

For its part, Wells Fargo has done a poor job of explaining the departure. It denies that Atkins departure has anything to do with accounting issues, which only deepens the mystery.

Wells Fargo plans to file its annual financial report with the Securities and Exchange Commission later this month. But the CFO certifying the annual report will have only served in the position for several weeks. Some investors will no doubt question the value of certification by a man who was chief administrative officer until several weeks ago. Indeed, it seems to undermine the entire purpose of certification.

I have a feeling that well one day learn more about the alleged "personal issues" that lead to Atkins departure. This story is not over.


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