Wells Fargo & Co.’s critics stormed its annual meeting in Dallas, vowing to keep pressure on the bank even after the resignation of its chief executive officer. Investors, however, showed they’re ready to move on.
Interim Chief Executive Officer C. Allen Parker was interrupted more than a dozen times as he tried to deliver opening remarks at the gathering on Tuesday, with hecklers shouting “frauds” and “criminals” at the bank’s leaders. “Wells Fargo, you cannot be trusted,” one activist yelled.
The turmoil wound down as security officers escorted protesters from the room, and shareholders voted to support Chair Betsy Duke and the rest of Wells Fargo’s board. All directors were approved with at least 95 percent support, according to preliminary results announced at the meeting. That’s the highest rate since before Wells Fargo’s scandals erupted in 2016.
“One of the wonderful things about shareholder democracy in this country is that we have meetings like this,” Parker said as he asked attendees to wait until the designated time to discuss their concerns.
The meeting showed big investors are willing to give the bank more time to resolve years of scandals that last month claimed a second CEO, Tim Sloan, who had become a target for critics. Days after lawmakers held a hearing in Washington to examine his progress in cleaning up the company, Sloan stepped down, saying he didn’t want his leadership to be a distraction.
Wells Fargo’s string of scandals began with the revelation that employees opened millions of potentially fake accounts to meet sales goals. Parker is now leading the San Francisco-based company temporarily while it searches for a new CEO.
Wells Fargo’s shareholders have grappled with a change at the top twice since the fake-account scandal erupted and led to the exit of CEO John Stumpf. After Sloan, a three-decade insider, rose to the top job, issues continued to emerge across business lines.
Regulators indicated repeatedly that the bank hasn’t done enough to resolve its issues. Sloan’s successor may still inherit 14 outstanding consent orders and more than a dozen ongoing investigations.
Duke said at Tuesday’s meeting that the search for a new CEO is well underway, and that the bank won’t be giving any more updates on its progress until a decision is made.
More than half of the bank’s board has joined since the scandals first came to light. John Baker II and James Quigley, who were among eight directors receiving less than 70 percent of votes two years ago, are still on the panel, receiving far greater support this year.
Some shareholders and their representatives, both during the interruptions of Parker’s remarks and the portion of the meeting reserved for investor comments, criticized Wells Fargo over the bank’s sales-practice scandals and pressed executives and directors on issues including supporting low- and moderate-income consumers and financing oil and gas companies. Other attendees thanked company leaders for the bank’s philanthropic work.
One speaker said she’s a former employee who left Wells Fargo over corruption at the bank. Parker responded that changes have been made since her departure “to make sure inappropriate things do not occur” at Wells Fargo.
Among the speakers was activist Bruce Marks, who, during the annual meeting two years ago, was escorted out by security after shouting without a microphone, demanding that directors explain what they knew about abuses at the bank. On Tuesday, he asked for Wells Fargo’s commitment to discuss a program to support car buyers.
Parker said he’d be happy to talk about the issue with him. And in a rare moment of levity, another activist yelled that Marks should become the next Wells Fargo CEO, eliciting laughs from attendees.
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