John Stumpf's first public appearance since the Wells Fargo scandal broke was on Jim Cramer's lively "Mad Money" program.
And that makes sense, because people sure are mad at Stumpf, the bank's chairman and CEO. Whoa Nelly, are they mad.
Here's an abbreviated list of people who are probably pretty mad at him: The 5,300 Wells Fargo workers who got canned; millions of customers wondering if their identities were stolen; 19 Wall Street analysts who had a "buy" rating on the stock; Jamie Dimon, Brian Moynihan, Lloyd Blankfein, James Gorman and every other bank chieftain who's thought about reining in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and fended off governance gadflies questioning their inalienable right to hold both the CEO and chairman titles; and of course Warren Buffett and all other shareholders watching this train wreck unfold:
However, there's one group of mad people who get to drag Stumpf before TV cameras for some public flogging: the Senate Banking Committee. Now, Cramer asked some pretty good questions, and Stumpf did a pretty good job dodging them, so it was a fun show. (Though I do wish he'd stuck around for a few "booyahs" in the lightning round, and maybe some thoughts on the Eagles season this year.) However, the questions from Congress can be a bit more, uhm, unconventional.
So as a service to Stumpf in this difficult time, Gadfly would like to help him prepare for the circus by providing a sampling of the types of questions he can expect, along with some suggested answers, so he can do the right thing: Get Congress off his back and keep that return on equity in double digits.
Q. Mr. Stumpf, my name is Elizabeth Warren and I'm not going to rest until I break up the big banks and send one of their CEOs to the hoosegow for a few decades. (Slowly puts on brass knuckles.) So my question is: Are you that CEO?
A. I'd like to take this opportunity to throw all my competitors under the bus. Have you read this report from the National Employment Law Project about how low wages at bank branches and aggressive sales metrics are a risk for the entire industry? For example, one former employee of both SunTrust and Bank of America said: “Managers really pushed me to ignore it when consumers say no.” At Wells Fargo, we don't like to put workers and consumers in such awkward situations. So as a courtesy, we just open the accounts without bothering them with all the pesky details.
Q. But your bank is the one that got caught. Was Wells Fargo's focus on cross-selling and aggressive sales targets a recipe for fraud?
A. Oh, don't be silly. We only fired about 1,000 employees a year for five years; that's about 1 percent of the branch workforce. As a handy comparison, that percentage is way less than the 1.5 percent cash rewards you can earn on your Wells Fargo credit card! And I'd also like to point out that the election is just a few weeks away, so some of you may be "retiring" soon. What better time for your consultation with a Wells Fargo financial adviser? Or maybe it's time to go back to school and learn some new skills. Our student-loan rates are very competitive!
Q. Mr. Stumpf, I'm one of those senators who's not Elizabeth Warren. She's kind of scary, to be honest, but I digress, which come to think of it is sort of how I got elected. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, I hate that stupid Wells Fargo wagon that you ride around in, and horses are known to be contributors to greenhouse gases and ... (inaudible grumbling noises).
A. Speaking of wagons, our rates on new-car loans start at just 3.1 percent! Why not drive home from DC in style?!
Q. Mr. Stumpf, I don't get a lot of face time on national television, so my question is going to be about half an hour long. In fact, most of it's not going to be a question at all, but a dramatic rant about how outraged I am at Wall Street banksters like yourself, and I have 14 points I'd like to make. First, (TV commercial break). But the question I pose to you, will you claw back the tens of millions of dollars in bonuses paid to Carrie Tolstedt, the fat-cat banker who mysteriously retired before the scandal broke?
A. That's a great question. And it's something we'll discuss with our board, and our outside consultants. And it's going to be a very long and drawn-out process. So drawn out, in fact, that with any luck this whole scandal will have blown over by the time we're finished and one day we'll all be laughing about the silly and un-American notion of clawbacks. Also, I should point out, who knows if there's any money left to claw back? Carrie is a very generous person who donates to a lot of good causes. In fact, as I'm sure you know, she's been a very generous campaign donor to members of the Senate Banking Committee.
Q. Can we please have the last question and answer stricken from the record?
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
To contact the author of this story:
Michael P. Regan in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Daniel Niemi at email@example.com