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Has Time Expired for Wells Fargo's Leadership Team?

By Motley Fool Staff - Updated Apr 19, 2019 at 7:39PM

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After a seemingly endless string of scandals and settlements, is it time for a change at Wells Fargo?

Check out the latest Wells Fargo earnings call transcript.

A recent Charlotte Observer article referred to Wells Fargo (WFC 2.31%) as an "embarrassment," citing the latest multimillion-dollar settlements the bank has agreed to pay as a result of its bad behavior.

In this Industry Focus: Financials clip, host Jason Moser and contributor Matt Frankel, CFP, discuss whether it might be time for the bank to make some big changes at the top of its organization.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on Jan. 14, 2018.

Jason Moser: I wanted to kick the show off here this week, talk a little bit -- Chris Hill sent me this article late last week. I got to reading it. It's an interesting piece on Wells Fargo and their most recent troubles. The article is titled "The Embarrassment That is Wells Fargo." It comes from the Charlotte Observer. It talks more about a settlement they had to make here with the state of California in regard to insurance policies that they opened for customers without their consent, and then went ahead and charged them for it. There's a skepticism, I think, when it comes to insurance for a lot of people already, just that very initial leap. But then, to do something like that...I don't even know where to begin. It's amazing to me that it only cost them $5 million to bury this thing because it sounds pretty bad.

Matt Frankel: I think if it had extended beyond California, it would have been a little costlier. This is just the latest in a series of things, I think there was a $500 million settlement just a couple of days before. Was that the auto insurance? I can't even keep track of these things.

Moser: That was auto loan and mortgage charges. It was a lot of it, you're right. That's the point. It seems like this never ends.

Frankel: Right. We thought the fake accounts scandal was enough. I was actually a Wells Fargo auto loan customer, and they tried to charge me for insurance that I didn't need.

Moser: Oh, really?

Frankel: They sent me a letter saying that they didn't have verification that I had insurance on their auto loan, and that they were going to charge me for their own policy unless I verified my insurance, which I'd had with no lapse for six years. A lot of people didn't actually send in the paperwork like I did, and they got charged for bogus policies. It's just one thing after another.

Moser: That seems like it really puts the onus on the customer. You're in what ultimately is a customer service business there. That's one area where they have obviously fallen very flat. I don't think we have anything with Wells Fargo anymore. We don't have any accounts. I think we once had a mortgage with them, maybe. But I don't think I would want to be a Wells Fargo customer.

Now, with that said, I am a Bank of America customer, and that's not because I think Bank of America is the most awesome bank out there, either. It's just that we've had these accounts forever. They had pretty good online banking when all that started years ago. And now, the cost of switching is just a nightmare. I wouldn't want to get in there and fiddle with it. So we have our checking account and a couple of savings accounts that run through Bank of America and whatnot.

It seems to me with Wells Fargo...I can't imagine that headline getting any worse. I'm sure it probably will. But even if it does, I don't know that I would expect anything material to happen to this company or its fundamentals.

Frankel: Tim Sloan is doing his best to change the public's perception, and so far, it's just not working. And it's also important to point out that these are old issues that are being settled now, right? This is nothing new. We didn't find out that they have insurance issues in California. Having said that, this is bringing all these old problems that are two or three years back and fresh in people's minds. It makes it really, really hard to turn the tide.

Moser: It really does. I guess I'll wrap it up with this question for you. I wonder, do you think they can really take back control of the narrative with Tim Sloan still at the helm? Is 2019 the year where Tim Sloan has to move on?

Frankel: I don't know if he definitely has to move on, but it's definitely put-up-or-shut-up time. The bank's last quarter looked a whole lot better than the one before it. If that continues, and we can put some of these issues behind them -- these are all settled now, so hopefully now we can finally move on a little bit. If 2019's results justify it, they might keep him around. If not, then it might be time for new leadership.

Moser: That old saying goes, winning takes care of everything. We tend to look at our companies that we invest in here with a bit more of a...We definitely like to look at the culture of the business and leadership and things like that. And everybody has to figure out their own line and where they don't want to invest. I just wonder if Tim Sloan really is the guy to get it going. But you're right, if the fundamentals come in and the business is earning money and they're exceeding expectations, he's punched his ticket, he's good to go and he can stay as long as he likes.

Frankel: The biggest issue is that investors are worried that this is going to cost them customers. If that turns out not to be the case, then we'll go from there.

Moser: Yeah. To be continued, I suppose.

Jason Moser has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Matthew Frankel, CFP owns shares of Bank of America. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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