WHEN you consider the hundreds of billions of dollars of losses and fines that the banking industry has made or incurred over the past decade, the affair that has just ended the career of John Stumpf, the boss of Wells Fargo, may at first seem innocuous. In September Wells admitted that its retail-banking sales people had been too pushy, and agreed to pay regulators a $185m fine, a tiny sum by recent standards (Deutsche Bank is presently in negotiations to pay a fine of perhaps $5 billion to American regulators). Mr Stumpf probably thought that he had a couple more happy years to go as the head of the world’s most valuable bank.
But on October 12th, he stepped down after being roasted alive for weeks in an inferno of criticism. Wells’s transgressions have caught the public mood far more than esoteric abuses in the mortgage-backed-security market ever did. The bank admitted that its staff created up to 2m bogus accounts, without customers’ permission, in order to meet aggressive sales targets. To many Americans fed up with banks’ red tape and lousy service that seemed reckless, unforgivable and possibly…Continue reading