As many hoped she would, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Tuesday gave a thorough tongue-lashing to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf for what she described as “gutless leadership” for his failure to take responsibility for the recently exposed, years-long banking fraud scandal.
“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?” the top Wall Street watchdog and Massachusetts senator asked during the U.S. Senate Banking Committee hearing on the bank’s opening of millions of unauthorized accounts.
“Have you resigned as CEO or have you returned one nickle of the million of dollars that you were paid while the scam was going on?” she asked.
Stumpf responded, “the board will take care of that.”
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“I will take that as a ‘no’ then,” Warren continued. “Okay, 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 on your low level employees that don’t have a fancy PR firm to defend themselves. That’s gutless leadership.”
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Wells Fargo has faced an onslaught of criticism since it came to light that top executives received millions in compensation despite the scandal and record $185 million fine, while over 5,000 low-level workers were fired as punishment. At one point during Tuesday’s hearing, Stumpf admitted that he took home $19.3 million last year alone.
Former employees say the unethical behavior was the consequence of unrealistic sales goals—as many as 20 banking products a day in 2013—and an aggressive sales culture that came from the very top.
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“This is about accountability,” Warren continued. “You should resign, you should give back the money 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.”
It is worth noting, as MSNBC does, that Warren “is one of the scant few on the Senate banking committee who has not been cut a check by Wells Fargo’s political action committee.”
Committee members Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also questioned Stumpf and pointed out that, by acknowledging that he was aware of the scam, the CEO also faces allegations of securities fraud for misrepresenting “growth metrics” to investors, as reporter David Dayen pointed out in a series of tweets on the hearing.
Dayen observes that there is “[a]bsolutely no difference between Exxon and Wells Fargo,” referring to the ongoing investigation in whether the oil giant deceived investors and knowingly contributed to the climate crisis. He said both companies “lied to investors about what they knew about a material problem to the business.”
“The only way that Wall Street will change is if executives face jail time when they preside over massive frauds,” Warren concluded. “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.”