“Wells Fargo, you are the worst”: scenes from a grueling annual reunion

The trailer of outrage in Wells Fargo boomed in Iowa on Tuesday.

Activists attended the bank’s annual meeting in Des Moines to voice a diverse set of grievances to CEO Tim Sloan and board chair Elizabeth “Betsy” Duke. They berated Wells Fargo for its various consumer scandals, its use of arbitration to resolve customer disputes, and its business links with gunmakers, payday lenders, fossil fuel companies and private prison companies.

As 2017 bank meeting in Florida, it was interrupted by protesters, but not before its conclusion, when some attendees started chanting, “Wells Fargo, you are the worst. Put people and the planet first.

The most prominent critic was California State Treasurer John Chiang, who called for Sloan to be removed as CEO. Chiang, a Democrat running for governor of the Golden State, made similar remarks Monday at an event in San Francisco.

“Sir. Sloan’s moving approach, there’s nothing to see here is a dog that doesn’t hunt,” Chiang said Tuesday in Des Moines.

“He turned out to be too much of the champion of the old guard to be the necessary agent of change. Sloan says, “I don’t think we have a culture problem.” Yet regulators slapped the bank with sanctions rarely seen in the history of American banking. “

In the past 18 months, Wells has paid $ 185 million in penalties on millions of accounts opened without customer permission, over $ 1 billion for mortgage and auto loan abuse. In February, the Federal Reserve made the unprecedented move to order Wells to cap the growth of its assets.

Duke, who joined the Wells Fargo board in 2015 and became chairman in January, defended Sloan, a 30-year veteran of the company.

“I think Tim’s time with the company is an advantage and his commitment to change is unwavering,” said Duke, former Federal Reserve governor, in remarks that drew applause from the audience. “And I think he’s the right CEO for Wells Fargo.”

A positive sign for the struggling bank was that its shareholders showed much greater patience than outside activists on Tuesday regarding the pace of internal change.

A year ago, Wells shareholders expressed dissatisfaction with several long-time members of the company’s board of directors, and seven of the company’s 15 directors have since left the board. On Tuesday, shareholders re-elected the 12 directors who were on the ballot with more than 89% of the vote, according to the company.

By an equally wide margin, shareholders also confirmed the choice of Wells Fargo from KPMG as auditor, despite a recommendation to the contrary from the proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis.

Three shareholder proposals that the Wells Fargo board opposed – including one that sought to tie the bank’s executive compensation policy to corporate social responsibility efforts – were rejected.

Wells had sought to avoid some dissent at the annual meeting by agreeing to conduct a review of its business standards that was sought after by some faith-affiliated investors.

This review, which is expected to be published later this year, aims to analyze the systemic root, cultural and ethical causes of the bank’s recent scandals.

Sister Nora Nash of the Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia, who defended the proposal, berated the bank at Tuesday’s annual meeting.

“This company has harmed and injured millions of its customers,” said Nash, who is also a member of a stakeholder advisory board that Wells announced in December.

“They deserve an honest account of transgressions. And most importantly, they deserve a definitive apology and a process of wholeness. “

Wells Fargo has also been criticized for its use of mandatory arbitration clauses, which prevent clients from joining together in class actions. A study released Monday by the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation found that only two consumers won the arbitration last year against Wells Fargo.

Sloan said Wells has agreed to pay for mediation in cases where bank workers create false accounts receivable, if an amicable solution cannot be found with the client. But he also defended the bank’s broader use of mandatory arbitration clauses.

Asked about Wells Fargo’s dealings with gunmakers and private prison companies, Sloan suggested activists should lobby lawmakers rather than bankers.

“There is an overcrowding problem in this country related to prisons,” Sloan said. “And to face it, our elected officials, our government, have decided to contract with private prisons. We are not involved in this decision.

Sloan has also stood firm in the face of activists who oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline and condemned Wells Fargo for its role in funding the controversial project.

He highlighted the bank’s commitment, announced last week, to provide $ 200 billion in financing to sustainable businesses and projects by 2030, with more than 50% of that commitment focused on cleantech and transactions. renewable energy.

At the same time, Sloan declined to apologize for the bank’s role in funding oil extraction, asking the public to show by show of hands whether they drove to Tuesday’s meeting or by plane.

“We are in the midst of a transition in this country. We are still dependent on hydrocarbons, ”he said.

A poignant moment came when a cash-strapped California homeowner recalled that she went to the Wells Fargo Annual Meeting in 2017 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. To beg the bank to find a way to allow him to keep his house. Nonetheless, she said she lost her home afterwards.

“I’m sorry this was the result,” Sloan told the woman, noting that the loan was owned by investors and was only managed by Wells Fargo. “Because we didn’t have this loan, we couldn’t help you. “

Protesters also gathered outside the meeting, directing arrows and critical signs at a stagecoach, the iconic symbol of Wells Fargo. West Des Moines is the headquarters of Wells Fargo’s mortgage lending division. The bank has approximately 16,000 employees in Iowa.

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