Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren (D) did not mince words during a tense meeting of the Senate Banking Committee on Monday. There, she excoriated Wells Fargo bank CEO John Stumpf for his role in the company’s now-public use of deceptive practices against its consumers, including thousands of unauthorized account openings in the name of unsuspecting customers, and credit card applications set up fraudulently by the bank’s employees.
“You should resign,” Warren told Stumpf point blank, adding later that he should be “criminally investigated” as well.
Stumps, summoned before the committee after Wells Fargo agreed to pay a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau-imposed fine of $185 million, sat stoically as Warren upbraided him.
“You haven’t resigned. You haven’t returned a single nickel of your personal earnings. You haven’t fired a single senior executive,” Warren told Stumpf. “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,” she concluded.
In his prepared remarks to the committee, Stumpf accepted full responsibility for Wells Fargo’s deceitful practices, saying he was “deeply sorry.”
As Warren pointed out later in her questions, Stumpf had personally benefitted from Wells Fargo’s successes during the period in which the malfeasance took place. The value of his stock holdings increased by over $200 million.
“If one of your tellers took a handful of twenty dollar bills out of the cash drawer, they’d probably be looking at criminal charges for theft. They could end up in prison,” she said. “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.”
Stumpf has not indicated whether he will step down as CEO, although after being on the receiving end of Sen. Warren’s flamethrower, it’s likely he’s rethinking his decision not to explore a career in the arts.