This article, originally published at 7:53 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, has been updated with market data and comments from analysts and lawmakers.
Whether Wells Fargo's (WFC) embattled CEO keeps his job may hinge on whether the clawback of millions of dollars of his incentive pay appeases House Financial Services Committee members grilling him on a scandal involving up to 2 million unauthorized customer accounts.
The CEO, John Stumpf, was lambasted by members of the Senate Banking Committee last week for not disciplining any senior executives over the accounts, created largely by front-line employees under pressure to meet ambitious sales targets or lose their jobs. More than 5,300 workers, some of whom made as little as $12 an hour, were fired in the matter over a five-year period, though Stumpf and former consumer banking chief Carrie Tolstedt continued to earn millions.
If Republicans on the House panel convening Thursday "start to complement him for being forthright and taking the hit and taking steps to right the situation, then he'll be able to keep his position," Richard Bove, an analyst with Rafferty Capital Markets, said in a telephone interview. "Democrats aren't going to give him a break."
Stumpf agreed to forfeit $41 million in unvested stock awards as well as any bonus for this year and forego his salary for the duration of an independent review of the bogus accounts by the company's board, Wells Fargo said yesterday. Tolstedt, who has left the company, will forfeit $19 million in unpaid equity awards. She won't be paid a bonus this year, nor will she receive severance pay or any pay enhancements related to retiring, the San Francisco-based company said.
Altogether, the bank will claw back an estimated $67.7 million from Stumpf and Tolstedt, more than 24 times the amount of fees improperly charged to customers in connection with the bogus accounts, Brian Kleinhanzl, an analyst with brokerage Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, said in a note to clients.
"The monetary loss should be enough to quell the outrage of interested parties," Kleinhanzl said, and "should buy the CEO more time to deal with the ongoing scandal." Given Tolstedt's departure, Wells Fargo will probably "be able to manage through the scandal with the current executive team intact," he wrote.
More important than the clawbacks, said Rafferty Capital's Bove, is the board's independent probe into retail banking practices, which will include sales goals of as many as eight products per customer highlighted in the bank's $185 million settlement over the unauthorized accounts. It will be led by a special committee of independent directors, working with the board's human resources committee and independent counsel Shearman & Sterling.
"For the last eight days, we've asked that Wells Fargo do exactly what they announced yesterday," Bove said. "We thought they had to bring in an independent outside adviser to take a look at their situation, clarify what went wrong and what should be done."
Depending on the results of the probe, Wells Fargo's board may claw back more pay or take other job-related actions, and it will continue the review as long as necessary to do a thorough job, lead independent director Stephen Sanger said in the bank's statement. If the investigation lasts for a year, it would cost Stumpf an estimated $2.8 million in salary, Kleinhanzl noted.
Wells Fargo's actions represent "a small step in the right direction, but nowhere near real accountability," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who has urged Stumpf to step down, said in an e-mailed statement. "Wells employees who failed to meet management's outrageous sales goals were fired. Wells employees who tried to raise the alarm about the creation of fake accounts were fired. Their lives were turned upside down. But John Stumpf is going to be just fine: he keeps his job and most of the millions of dollars he made while this massive fraud went on right under his nose."
According to regulatory filings, Stumpf made $19.3 million last year. The CEO should still face investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice, Warren said. "That is real accountability."
Wells Fargo shares have fallen 9.4% to $45.37 since its settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the City and County of Los Angeles, was announced in early September. That's a steeper decline than either the KBW Bank Index or the S&P 500.
The backlash against the company, which is now facing lawsuits from ex-employees, shareholders and consumers, is likely to reverberate across Wall Street, Bove said.
A bill by U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling that would ease some of the tighter regulations imposed under the Dodd-Frank reform law after the 2008 financial crisis, will have to overcome a much higher hurdle now, Bove said.
If Hensarling, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, "cannot convince the world that this is solely a Wells Fargo event, his bill is dead," Bove said. And either way, the scandal has given more ammunition to lawmakers and regulators seeking to impose greater limits on bank operations, he noted.
A Federal Reserve proposal outlined by Governor Daniel Tarullo to increase the amount of capital reserves required at the biggest banks would face far more resistance "if Wells Fargo didn't regurgitate all over the American public," Bove said. "What Wells Fargo did is infuriating if you're not Wells Fargo, if you're another bank."
Indeed, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said last week that the central bank would sharpen its examination of board oversight and compliance risk -- including safeguards against incentives that might encourage improper behavior -- at the large banks it oversees.
And Monday, the U.S. Labor Department said it would re-examine six years worth of whistleblower cases against Wells Fargo (WFC) amid a "top-to-bottom" review of actions involving the company; Warren urged other regulators to do the same.
"We are deeply concerned by these matters, and we are committed to ensuring that all aspects of the company's business are conducted with integrity, transparency, and oversight," Sanger, Wells Fargo's lead independent director, said in the statement. "We will conduct this investigation with the diligence it deserves -- and will follow the facts wherever they lead. Our thousands of outstanding team members and millions of loyal customers and shareholders deserve no less.