Wells Fargo CEO Says Crisis Makes Staying Under Asset Cap Harder

(Bloomberg) -- It “hasn’t been easy” for Wells Fargo & Co. to operate under an asset cap as the bank faces a flurry of deposits and credit-line draws tied to the coronavirus pandemic, Chief Executive Officer Charlie Scharf said.

The San Francisco-based lender has had to take substantial actions to get below the cap, including moving some deposits outside the company, Scharf said at an AllianceBernstein Holding LP virtual conference Friday.

The asset cap is “unfortunate, especially in an environment like this, but it’s a fact of life, and we’re more focused than ever on doing the work that’s necessary to get it behind us,” Scharf said. “It’s very, very clear what has to get done.”

The Federal Reserve in 2018 limited Wells Fargo’s growth until it addressed lapses following a series of scandals. Scharf has declined to forecast when the asset cap would be lifted, but has cautioned that the bank still has a lot of work to do. Scharf said Friday that the cap is just one of 12 public consent orders Wells Fargo has to satisfy, with all of them being “extremely important.”

Here are other takeaways from Scharf’s remarks:

  • The timing and pace of the recovery, as well as Wells Fargo’s ability to improve its results, will determine the appropriate dividend level for the bank, Scharf said. Its capital base is strong, but earnings were weak in the first quarter and will remain so this quarter, he said.
  • The buildup in Wells Fargo’s reserves will likely be “quite significant” in the second quarter as expectations are worse today than they were at the end of March, Scharf said, cautioning that many unknowns remain.
  • Expenses are “way too high,” Scharf said, adding that Wells Fargo will probably have more than $500 million in unanticipated costs in the second quarter related to the pandemic.
  • Scharf said he hopes to create a road map for the company by the end of the year. The early days of the Covid-19 crisis made his business reviews difficult, he said, but Wells Fargo remains “as committed as ever to getting the work done.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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