In this video, the Market Foolery team offers unexpected praise to the board of directors at Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) who have recently moved to hold accountable the ousted executives embroiled in the fake accounts scandal that came to light in 2016.
Will this be enough to restore trust in the company?
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on April 10, 2017.
Chris Hill: I think we have to start with a shout out to the board of directors at Wells Fargo, which is a sentence I really never thought I would actually say. In the wake of the sales scandal last year, the board of directors at Wells Fargo is clawing back $75 million in compensation from two people: former CEO John Stumpf, and Carrie Tolstedt, who was the head of Community Banking. I have to say, Jason, I was surprised by this. I was surprised that this happened, given the fact that Stumpf knew about the sales scandal back in 2012, didn't really do anything about it for three years, and then it came to light. I just assumed that there would be financial equivalent of a slap on the wrist for both of these people and the fact that they're getting $75 million taken away, good for the board.
Taylor Muckerman: On top of what they already had taken away from them.
Jason Moser: Yeah. I feel like, up to this point, I've kind of felt like they weren't really sorry that this happened, they were more sorry that they just got caught. And on the one hand, to your point, you love to see a board take strong action like this. On the other hand, it at least makes you want to ask the question, what the hell were they doing all this time from 2012 up until now? How was this going on underneath their noses? So it leads me to my greater thinking in regard to boards -- boards are essentially as good as an executive team wants to make them. At its very core, you have to look at a board and think, these folks are actually just being incentivized to show up once a quarter for a year and nod and smile politely and say, "Everything is going well," and they're getting paid like kings to do that. They're incentivized to not rock the boat, because if they do, chances are they may not be asked to serve on the board anymore. Certainly, there's the financial benefit they get from actually serving on the board. I feel like a board can only really be as strong as a company's leadership wants it to be. So please understand that I'm not saying that all boards suck. I think a lot of boards are really good. It is really one of those things, though, where you look and say, how in the world was this all going on, and it's now really just coming to light? Yeah, I do applaud them for taking such a bold move here. Hopefully, we'll see future leadership here with Wells Fargo be able to distance itself from this very negative culture that's been going on for some time.
Muckerman: I think they're trying to protect their neck a little bit in hindsight. I saw that the Institutional Shareholder Services, an independent firm, suggested that shareholders vote against 12 out of 15 board members in the April proxy. So I think a few of them were like, "Maybe we claw some of this back, return to some good favor with shareholders in hopes that 12 of 15 aren't voted off the board in a month's time." And to see 5,300 people get fired over five years from the same exact division and maybe not ask a question as to why ... it's only about 2% of Wells Fargo's workforce, a massive company, about 268,000 people at the end of last year. Bu, 2% of your employment, all from the sales team, and seeing those huge spikes in new accounts being signed up, over a million unauthorized accounts, there's some red flags there. At least, some things to maybe ask a question or two about, like how are we doing so well? And yet we're firing people? So, I think it's a little bit reactionary, trying to protect themselves a little bit, ahead of a very important shareholder vote for a lot of these board of directors members.
Hill: Oh, I think both those things can be true at the same time. I think I can be the right thing to do, and it is absolutely a level of self-interest going on as well. But I remember when this story first broke, and one of the things we talked about was the trust factor with Wells Fargo. If you're an investor, if you're an existing shareholder or a potential shareholder, whether you're someone like us or you're running a fund on Wall Street, one of the things we kicked around was, how is Wells Fargo going to restore trust in the investor community? And I think this is a move in that direction.
Muckerman: Sure. I don't know how much shares sold off the first time when this originally happened. But yeah, if it happened again, certainly much more damage would happen to shareholder value.
Moser: Yeah. I think what happened to the stock was relatively predictable. It didn't seem like it really sold off all that much. But it's a huge company. Obviously, they have a stranglehold on the mortgage market, and that's not likely to change. But I think that's probably one of the things that investors should at least be concerned with going forward. Because they're going to continue to have the stranglehold on the mortgage market -- and there's no real control over that. We just bought a home, and we didn't use Wells Fargo as our lender, but the chances are Wells Fargo is going to end up getting that mortgage to service it, and I'm not going to have any say-so in it. To me, I would be a little bit more convinced had, maybe, Timothy Sloan not necessarily been named the new CEO, because Sloan was there during this whole time. He was the COO, he served as the CFO. It's not like he's completely innocent here. There's no way he didn't know what was going on. He had to know something.
Hill: You're saying Timothy Sloan doesn't have fresh eyes?
Moser: I'm just throwing it out there for discussion. Maybe our listeners can deliberate and send us their thoughts on Twitter and email and whatnot. But, again, I think this is a great move from the board. I would personally be a little bit more convinced if they completely cleaned house on the leadership side. I'm not saying that Timothy Sloan is guilty of anything here, but the perception is the reality in most cases, and certainly the perception is that he had to have known something.