Latest Wells Fargo Chief Promises to Reform ‘Broken’ Culture

When the chief executive of Wells Fargo, Charles W. Scharf, appeared before the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday, the committee’s chairwoman opened with an ominous warning: The last two Wells Fargo chiefs to face Capitol Hill inquisitions resigned soon after.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Scharf tried to put distance between himself and his predecessors.

Denouncing the company’s “flawed business model” and “broken” culture, Mr. Scharf acknowledged that the bank’s efforts to reform itself had been stumbling and incomplete — and said that was changing.

“The sense of urgency that people are working with inside the company is very different today than it was four months ago,” he said.

That’s when Mr. Scharf became the latest person in charge of fixing the mess that is Wells Fargo, which has made little progress righting itself in the nearly four years since a series of scandals began bursting into view. Employees had opened what may have been millions of sham accounts in customers’ names, charged mortgage customers unnecessary fees and forced auto loan borrowers to buy insurance they did not need.

Mr. Scharf called the behavior described in the House report as “deeply disturbing” conduct that “has no place in our company.”

Wells Fargo has churned through leaders since 2016, when John G. Stumpf stepped down amid public outcry over the fake-account scandal. His successor, Timothy J. Sloan, left the company last year, two weeks after Democrats and Republicans sharply criticized him over reports from Wells Fargo employees that the bank’s high-pressure culture was still a problem.

The bank’s next leader was C. Allen Parker, who had been its general counsel. According to the committee report last week, he had private conversations with a political appointee at one key regulator, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in an effort to soften the bank’s punishments.

That back channel is now closed, Mr. Scharf said: “All the conversations I think that we have with the C.F.P.B, to my knowledge, are open, on-the-record conversations.”

Three times during Tuesday’s hearing, lawmakers asked Mr. Scharf, who previously ran the Bank of New York and Visa, why he had taken the Wells Fargo job. Mr. Scarf responded that he felt the bank was redeemable.

“We can restore the brand and the reputation of Wells Fargo by taking the kinds of actions that we’ve started to take in my short time at the company,” he said.

Those actions include replacing much of the company’s top leadership, increasing oversight of its previously independent business units, and centralizing responsibility for regulatory compliance under the bank’s newly hired chief operating officer.

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