Wells Fargo CEO Refuses to Commit to Pay Cut

By John MaxfieldMarketsFool.com

Image source: The Motley Fool.

Continue Reading Below

The Chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), John Stumpf, was lambasted on Capital Hill this week after senators learned that the nation's third biggest bank by assets defrauded potentially millions of its customers over the past five years.

Nothing got members of the Senate Banking Committee more riled up during Stumpf's testimony on Tuesday than his refusal to commit to cutting his compensation or that of Carrie Tolstedt, who managed the unit where the fraud occurred.

Senators were none too pleased

More From Fool.com

Here's an exchange between Senator Elizabeth Warren and Stumpf:

This sounds bad. After all, Stumpf earns upwards of $20 million a year, the most of any big banker over the past half-decade. That's more than enough to expect near-perfection from his performance.

Stumpf also declined to say whether the bank would claw back any of Tolstedt's roughly $100 million (give or take a few million, but who's counting?) in stock and options that she accumulated through her time at the bank and is set to abscond with when she retires later this year.

Adding insult to injury, Stumpf has laid blame for the bank's scandal at the feet of its lowest-paid employees, the tellers and personal bankers in its branches -- though Stumpf calls them "stores" to reinforce Wells Fargo's aggressive sales culture. These are people who perpetrated the fraud, but seem to have done so either at the behest of their managers or to reach unreasonable sales quotas to avoid being fired.

Meanwhile, Stumpf publicly lauded Tolstedt's contributions to the bank when her pending departure was announced earlier this year. He called her a "standard-bearer of our culture," and said that she was a "champion for our customers."

Horrible optics

Those statements may be true, but to your average Americanthe situation seems incredibly unfair. It confirms every stereotype we have of greedy, fat-cat bankers. And at the very least, the choice of words was odd, given what happened under her watch.

"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," said Warren. "It's gutless leadership."

As harsh as Warren was, it's hard to disagree with her.

Though, to be fair, Stumpf went on to make a valid point. His explanation was that he neither sat on the compensation committee of Wells Fargo's board, nor did he want to prejudice the decision of the committee's members by offering a public comment.

That makes sense. I also think it's safe to assume that the board will in fact do something about Stumpf's and Tolstedt's compensation packages. It has to. There is no way around it. The reputational damage of doing nothing is too great.

But either way, there's no question that Stumpf's response to all of this has only made things worse for Wells Fargo.

A secret billion-dollar stock opportunity The world's biggest tech company forgot to show you something, but a few Wall Street analysts and the Fool didn't miss a beat: There's a small company that's powering their brand-new gadgets and the coming revolution in technology. And we think its stock price has nearly unlimited room to run for early in-the-know investors! To be one of them, just click here.

John Maxfield owns shares of Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool has the following options: short October 2016 $50 calls on Wells Fargo.

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.