The Wells Fargo Paddy Wagon is A-Coming Down The Street

Elizabeth Warren calls CEO John Stumpf a criminal to his face

The Music Man

Hoo boy! The last time someone was flayed on TV for us all to watch was on “Game of Thrones,” and for its combination of brutality and boobs the show won a thousand Emmys. This time the person holding the knife with cameras pointed at her is Billfold heartthrob Senator Elizabeth Warren, and the subject of her precise, surgical fury is Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. Stumpf, as you may recall, spent the past several years presiding over, and benefiting from, an astounding series of frauds at his bank. So far, he has weaseled out of any real accountability for his / his company’s actions. Now, however, he is learning that he is a man, and all men must die.

Stumpf had been hauled to DC for questioning about Wells Fargo’s years of shady-ass, deceptive, and even criminal business practices. NPR reports:

Wells Fargo is paying $185 million in penalties for acts that date to at least to 2011. The firm says it fired some 5,300 employees who were found to have created false accounts as it sought to increase “cross-selling” — building the number of accounts each customer holds.

The company line is that the rampant, normalized malfeasance in the bank was not organized or deliberate; superiors weren’t telling lower-level workers to make accounts breed like Tribbles. They did it on their own! They took the initiative, and now they’re taking the fall. Just like the lower-level guards at Abu Ghraib, one assumes. If you ask the higher ups, the fault always lies with a few “bad apples” rather than with a diseased tree.

Elizabeth Warren is not buying it.

you kept your job, you kept your multi-multimillion-dollar bonuses, and you went on television to blame thousands of $12-an-hour employees who were just trying to meet cross-sell quotas that made you rich.
This is about accountability. You should resign. You should give back the money that 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.

Get ’im, E-dubs!

Meanwhile, a former Wells Fargo employee is disgusted by what the bank has been able to get away with and insists that the lower-level workers shouldn’t be blamed for doing exactly what they were expected to do.

30 years ago if you walked into a bank to deposit a check you could do just that. The teller would take the check and process the deposit. They’d probably ask you if there was anything else they could do for you and then you’d leave. Today, retail banking is not like that. Every bank has one goal. To become a bigger bank. The more products a consumer has with a single bank, the less likely they are to leave that bank. They’re also more likely to go back to do more things. You have a checking account, savings account, and a student loan with Wells Fargo? Well, why not get a mortgage through them too?
All the fraud, the so called bad apples, those people were driven to do deceptive things because they were afraid to lose their job. If you didn’t hit your goals after a couple quarters you’d be fired. It was as simple as that.

Hopefully some of the people in power in DC will realize that Warren is right and Stumpf should be criminally investigated. Because if you encourage, create a culture of, and profit from fraud, you should have to give some of your millions back, and perhaps you should even have to spend some time in lock-up. It’s as simple as that.

NB: This title, which is probably legible only to musical theater nerds, refers to a song from the all-American, small town musical “The Music Man,” which may seem whiter-than-white-bread but which is also actually about shady-ass business practices.