Earlier this year, following Deutsche Bank's (DB) - Get Deutsche Bank AG Report massive loss of $7.5 billion the Bank's CEO John Cryan told the Financial Times's Laura Noonan in a phone call that the bank he'd like to run was Wells Fargo (WFC) - Get Wells Fargo & Company Report .
Months later, the picture perfect image of Wells Fargo was gone.
In its five-year history, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau levied its largest ever fine on Wells Fargo after the bank's employees created as many as two million unauthorized accounts to meet the desired sales target.
On Sept. 8, the bank paid a $100 million fine to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and $85 million to other official agencies.
The creation of the fraudulent accounts stemmed allegedly from a management mandate to reach lofty sales targets. Responding to hard questioning by senators of both parties Tuesday, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf apologized repeatedly for the bank's actions and repeated that it had already taken steps to end the practice and "to make it right" with credit bureaus that may have changed Wells Fargo customers' ratings.
But he disagreed when Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called the event "a massive fraud."
Regardless, the case of Wells Fargo highlights three concerns about big banks.
1. A Culture That Leads to Problems
Pressured to meet sales targets, Wells Fargo employees opened unofficial accounts so that they could secure bonuses, or at least, so they would not be fired. But the bank's culture also seemed to punish whistle blowers and reward those who were opening the false accounts. Some individuals in the latter group were promoted or received raises.
2. Penalties Accrue
Since the financial crisis, big banking crimes have been penalized mostly with fines and multibillion-dollar penalties. According to the New York Times, major financial services institutions have paid more than $200 billion in penalties since the financial crisis. That includes a $14 billion fine levied last week by the U.S. Justice Department on Deutsche Bank. The penalty is meant to settle claims related to mortgage backed securities that the bank issue prior to the financial crisis of 2008.
Not that bankers haven't been punished individually. According to the inspector general for the Troubled Assets Relief Program, 35 banking executives have received prison sentences.
3. Lack of Accountability
Big bank executives have often blamed employees at lower levels and not faced consequences. In Tuesday's senate hearings, Warren said that Stumpf's definition of "accountable" was "to push the blame to low-level employees who don't have the money for a fancy PR firm to defend themselves." Warren called for Stumpf to resign.
Between 2011 and 2016, Wells Fargo fired 5,300 low-level employees related to the current scandal. But the company's head of the fraud and compliance division, Carrie Tolstedt, will walk away with $124 million in stocks and options when she retires later this year.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.