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October 3, 2017

Elizabeth Warren to Wells Fargo CEO: 'You should be fired'

Senator Elizabeth Warren accused Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan of trying to cover up the scandal over fake accounts at the bank and said he deserves to get fired.

"You enabled this fake-account scandal. You got rich off it, and then you tried to cover it up," Warren said during a fiery exchange Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee.

Lawmakers from both parties condemned Wells Fargo for repeatedly ripping off customers. The Democrat from Massachusetts said she has no faith that Sloan, a 30-year veteran of the bank who became CEO a year ago, is the right person to fix things.

"At best, you were incompetent, and at worst, you were complicit," Warren told him. "Either way, you should be fired."

Sloan admitted he wasn't "perfect," but insisted he's forced fundamental changes to fix the bank's rotten sales culture.

He was slammed by Republicans, too. Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana said to Sloan: "What in God's name were you thinking?"

Kennedy emphasized he's not anti-business. "I'm not against big. With all due respect, I'm against dumb."

Senator Sherrod Brown, the top Democrat on the committee, accused Wells Fargo of going to "great lengths to bury -- to bury -- this scandal" by using forced arbitration clauses to prevent customers from suing.

Sloan told Congress on Tuesday that management failed to take decisive action to head off the scandal that has rocked the bank for the past year.

"We recognized too late the full scope and seriousness of the problems," Sloan told lawmakers.

Sloan, who took over for longtime CEO John Stumpf last fall, seemed to place some blame on his predecessor.

"The bank's leaders acted too slowly and too incrementally. That was unacceptable," Sloan said.

Wells Fargo is being hauled back before Congress almost exactly a year after the bank's first hearing on the fake account scandal. Since then, Wells Fargo has admitted to even deeper problems.

Sloan said, "This was a year of disappointment and transition at Wells Fargo."

Wells Fargo is hoping Tuesday's hearing before the Senate Banking Committee goes better than last year's. During that hearing, Stumpf was berated by lawmakers, most memorably during a fiery exchange with Senator Elizabeth Warren. Stumpf stepped down three weeks later.

"We came to Congress without a good plan and all of you were right to criticize us," Sloan said. He explained that when Stumpf testified last year, Wells Fargo "had not fully grappled with the damage" the scandal did to its customers and employees.

Wells Fargo is trying to put out the firestorm by detailing the many steps the bank has taken to fix its broken sales culture.

Sloan plans to emphasize that Wells Fargo has held its former leaders accountable, revamped its unrealistic sales goals, reached a $142 million class action settlement with customers and agreed to dig deeper into its problems.

A company-wide review of Wells Fargo's sales tactics and interactions with customers has resulted in more bad news. Wells Fargo recently uncovered up to 1.4 million more potentially unauthorized accounts, bringing the total to 3.5 million. The bank also admitted to forcing up to 570,000 borrowers into unneeded auto insurance, including thousands whose cars were wrongly repossessed.

"I am deeply sorry for letting down our customers and team members. I apologize for the damage done to all the people who work and bank at this important American institution," Sloan said.

Wells Fargo has also been accused of firing whistleblowers who spoke up about the fake account problem. Sloan said Wells Fargo has improved its ethics protections to encourage employees to "speak up without any fear of retaliation."

Still, some lawmakers are fed up with the bank's controversies. Warren has urged the Federal Reserve to remove most of Wells Fargo's board members for failing to provide adequate oversight.

Maxine Waters, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, has gone a step further. She said regulators should consider shutting down Wells Fargo entirely.

When a bank repeatedly hurts consumers like Wells Fargo has, "it should not be allowed to continue to operate within our nation's banking system," according to a report prepared by Democratic staffers on the committee.

Wells Fargo continues to face multiple investigations, including from the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Labor.

"The past year has been humbling and challenging," Sloan said. "We are resolving past problems even as we make changes to ensure nothing like this happens again at Wells Fargo."

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