Wells Fargo Just Kicked Innovation in the Chin

canstockphoto17533266It is always doubly upsetting to see vulgar business behavior from a seemingly platinum-plated brand.

We have certainly been among those that have lauded Wells Fargo & Co. in the past, praising its lab and innovation practices, its mobile banking growth, had its executives speaking at our events, and even named it one of the coolest brands in banking in 2013.

Which is why we feel particularly shamed by the rampant dupe that Wells Fargo perpetrated. Yes, Congress will throw some public shame on John Stumpf, Wells’s CEO, tomorrow, but it is not enough.

If you read one blog on the Wells scandal, read this open letter from Terence Roche of Cornerstone Advisors. Roche is a co-founder of the consulting firm, and has the gray beard to back up his lambaste of Wells.

Roche writes that Wells can either “make this go away” or “word hard and transparently to make it right.”

[W]e have a suggestion for you, the senior leaders of [Wells Fargo]. You need to take whatever amount of money each of you made in salary, bonus and options because of this and give it back. Take it out of your pocket and give it back. Or give it to charity. Because you don’t deserve a penny of it. You need to show all of your constituents, in a very concrete way, that you understand this.

The most prescient point from Roche is his point about regulatory compliance. In duping more than 2 million customers, Wells just gave every regulator the right to rake further every bank or credit union’s existence. Here’s how Roche put it:

You also need, in some way, to apologize to your peers and competitors. Two of their biggest fears are the cost of compliance and the [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] and other regulators overstepping their mandates. Your actions gave the CFPB absolute legitimacy for years. Now we have to worry how much time and money the rest of the banking industry will need to spend to prove that they didn’t do what you did—just like they had to after the mortgage mess of 2008.

This is absolutely true. The regulatory mud just got thicker, and that will put a drain on innovation. All that innovation work and spending Wells has put in over the last several years — and it is significant — is likely negated by the increased regulatory burden it just foisted on banking.

So, yes, give back the money, Stumpf (you, too, Carrie Tolstedt), even if it won’t make a difference to banking or to you. At least, it will be some tangible evidence that unethical behavior has a personal cost.

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