The Feisty Group That Exposed Wells Fargo’s Wrongdoing

Front-page stories in Tuesday’s New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times revealed that Wells Fargo’s board would be slashing $75 million in compensation from two former top executives whom it blamed for the bank’s scandal over fraudulent accounts. But missing from these three papers’ stories—and from similar stories in other major print and broadcast news outlets—was the feisty group of bank employees that initially exposed the wrongdoing: the Committee for Better Banks.

A report issued Monday by a four-person committee of Wells Fargo’s board determined that John G. Stumpf (the former CEO) and Carrie L. Tolstedt (the former head of community banking)—both of whom were ousted last year—were primarily responsible for pressuring low-level employees to create and foist two million unwanted bank and credit card accounts on unsuspecting customers. To penalize the two former executives, it demanded a “clawback”—the forced return of pay and stock grants—that industry watchers say is the largest in banking history and one of the biggest ever in corporate America.

The bank’s crackdown on Stump and Tolstedt was triggered by embarrassing media reports and government investigations into Wells Fargo’s sales-goal practices. Those practices first came to light in 2013, when bank employees—most of them tellers and call center employees who assist customers with their personal or business banking needs—shared their concerns with the media, government regulatory agencies, and members of Congress.

The employees were brought together by the Committee for Better Banks (CBB), an advocacy group supported by the Communication Workers of America. The CBB works in tandem with community organizing groups like the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, New York Communities for Change, and Minnesotans for Fair Economy, that for over a decade have challenged Wells Fargo’s predatory lending and foreclosure practices, particularly in low-income and minority communities. By joining forces, the CBB and the other groups helped the bank’s employees and consumers find common ground.

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