For more than two years, Sen. Elizabeth Warren repeatedly has lashed out at Wells Fargo as the bank struggled to regain its footing after admitting to various customer abuses.
On Wednesday, Warren, D-Mass., turned her ire on one of the San Francisco bank’s main regulators, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
Wells Fargo is conducting a nationwide search for a new chief executive — its third in three years — and Warren wanted to know whether the OCC would exercise its “veto” power over the bank’s choice.
It would, Joseph Otting, head of the agency, which provides day-to-day oversight of large national banks, told Warren during a Senate Banking Committee hearing.
Things went awry when Warren asked Otting to share the results of the OCC’s review of Wells Fargo chief executive candidates. Otting declined, saying it would be confidential and his “prerogative” to keep it that way.
Warren told Otting that the OCC had repeatedly “ducked” its oversight responsibilities.
“No one has been more tougher on Wells Fargo than myself,” Otting said. “No one has been more outspoken.”
The OCC also was part of a $1 billion settlement with the bank last year and has offered unusual public rebukes of the bank’s turnaround efforts. That apparently was not enough for Warren.
“You mean at the OCC? That’s a low bar,” Warren responded.
Otting said, “I would disagree with that. I find it insulting that you would make that comment.”
“Good,” Warren said. “People all across this country were scammed and squeezed by Wells Fargo ... and the OCC never uttered a peep about the executives who were leading this.”
The OCC did nothing to stop the bank from naming Tim Sloan, who spent early 30 years at Wells Fargo before being named CEO in 2016, said Warren, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president.
Sloan stepped down earlier this year after being pummeled by lawmakers at a House committee hearing for more than four hours.
“This time you need to show your work ... so consumers and Congress can hold you responsible, too,” Warren said.
Otting told Warren he appreciated her request but did not relent.
The exchange during an otherwise mundane hearing on banking regulation reflect the extreme pressure facing Wells Fargo’s next chief executive. The bank, one of the largest in the country, repeatedly has apologized for various misdeeds — from opening millions of fraudulent accounts on behalf of its customers without their consent to mistakenly foreclosing on hundreds of clients and repossessing the cars of thousands of others.
But it has struggled to convince lawmakers and regulators that it has fixed the corporate culture that led to those issues.