On September 13, 2021, Senator Elizabeth Warren sent FED Chair Jerome Powell a letter [PDF].
In the letter she wrote “Under Janet Yellen’s leadership, the Fed placed Wells Fargo under an asset cap in 2018 due to its ‘widespread consumer abuses and other compliance breakdowns.’ In the more than three years since then, numerous additional revelations have surface about Wells Fargo’s continued unethical and anti-consumer conduct. These new revelations have once again made clear that continuing to allow this giant bank with a broken culture to conduct business in its current form poses substantial risks to consumers and the financial system.” Senator Warren goes on to ask that the Fed revoke Wells Fargo’s status as a financial holding company. The action would require Wells Fargo to separate its consumer bank subsidiary from its other financial activities.
Wells Fargo is an enormous financial services company with $1.9 trillion in assets. It serves 1 in 3 U.S. households and 10% of U.S. small business.
In Well’s Fargo’s reply, it cites progress achieved under the new CEO, Charles Scharf, including:
- Three business group have been split into five.
- It has created four new functions to provide greater oversight and transparency.
- It has brought on board 10 new operating committee members out of the total committee of 17.
- It has created a new team design to facilitate oversight of consumer practices.
- It has created new enterprise-wide risk assessment with the intent to design new controls.
- It has “implemented a new incentive plan for bank branches that is governed by stronger oversight and controls, and focused on customer relationships.”
The Fed continues to maintain that Wells Fargo has not done enough to rein in the incentive failures that revealed the frailty of its corporate governance. We have seen that several of the largest conglomerates in the United States have decided that it is time to divide their agglomerated groups into smaller units for focus and function. Johnson & Johnson will separate its consumer products division and its pharmaceutical division. GE will divide into three units: aviation, energy, and healthcare. Is it time for Wells Fargo to separate its consumer banking business from its other enterprises?
Address the following
- What is the principal-agent problem?
- What is the role of corporate governance?
- How is corporate culture different than governance?