Wells Fargo Protesters Shout, March as Investors Back CEO Raise
(Bloomberg) -- Wells Fargo & Co.’s annual shareholders meeting in Iowa drew a protest march and repeatedly broke into heated exchanges, with critics blasting the bank’s scandals, labor practices and financing of gun makers, jails and oil projects. One farmer said the firm is wrecking his soil.
Shareholders weren’t swayed.
The gathering in Des Moines ended Tuesday afternoon with a vote showing stronger support for the board than a year ago, and an endorsement of the panel’s decision to pay top executives more. Chief Executive Officer Tim Sloan may have more work ahead in his mission to win back public trust -- but investors, at least, aren’t rebelling.
“We can’t be all things to all people,” Sloan said as the meeting wrapped up. “I know that’s frustrating sometimes, but we’re going to do our best. And we’re absolutely going to listen, and every once in awhile, we’ll take your advice.” Some in the audience laughed.
The meeting wasn’t quite as raucous as last year’s, which went into recess temporarily and suffered other delays when protests erupted. But there were a number of tense, loud and even emotional moments.
At one point, seven protesters chanted: “Wells Fargo you’re the worst, put people and planet first,” before they were escorted out by uniformed officers.
Larry Ginter, a 78-year-old farmer from nearby Rhodes, urged the bank to stop working on big oil projects, such as the Dakota Access pipeline, whose parent company Wells Fargo has helped to finance. It’s hurting the organic integrity of his soil, which is now producing less, he said.
“You oughta hang your heads in shame,” Ginter told Sloan and the board.
In another contentious moment, Jordan Ash, a researcher with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, urged the bank to stop doing business with the National Rifle Association and do more to reduce gun violence in the U.S.
Sloan said he declined to meet with the teachers because they made public a letter he sent in response to their concerns without asking his permission. He said after that, a direct meeting “didn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
“What we’ve done is we’ve promised to engage with our customers that are in that industry. We’ve had very active dialogue,” Sloan said. “We don’t think it’s a good idea to allow banks to decide what products and services Americans buy.”
California State Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate John Chiang stood up three times to speak. He pressed the bank’s leaders to divulge more information on how Californians were harmed after branch workers opened accounts without customer permission. He called Sloan the wrong person to lead the company.
The CEO “cannot drain the swamp -- he has become it,” Chiang said.
Early in the meeting, Chairman Betsy Duke took to Sloan’s defense, calling him the “right CEO for Wells Fargo.” She described his commitment to change as “unwavering,” and said his time with the company is an advantage.
Every board member up for election drew at least 89.9 percent support in a shareholder vote, the bank said, citing preliminary results. Last year, a few directors got less than 60 percent.
This time, investors voted 92.4 percent in favor of the bank’s executive compensation plan, another sign of support for management. That compared with 96 percent last year.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.