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Wells Fargo Unit's Leader Departs With $125M After Bank Incurs Record Fine

A Wells Fargo executive's departure with large stock and options holdings has sparked questions, after the division she ran incurred $185 million in penalties.
Joe Raedle
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A Wells Fargo executive's departure with large stock and options holdings has sparked questions, after the division she ran incurred $185 million in penalties.

A federal agency used her Wells Fargo unit as a cautionary tale, imposing the largest fine it's ever levied. Her bank fired some 5,300 employees for acting "counter to our values." But questions are now circulating about Carrie Tolstedt, the unit's leader, who's set to depart her post with $124.6 million in stock and options, and whose compensation for the five years targeted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau included a yearly incentive bonus of $5.5 million in stock, to go along with her base pay and other bonuses.

Many of those questions were raised in a Fortune story Monday that wondered whether the situation was ripe for Wells Fargo to try to "claw back" some of the stock options it had awarded Tolstedt, who exits after years of heading Wells Fargo's huge community banking division.

If you're catching up to this story, here's how NPR's Yuki Noguchi reported it today for our Newscast unit:

"When Carrie Tolstedt's retirement was announced in July, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf called her a 'dear friend,' 'role model' and 'standard-bearer for our culture.'

"Less than two months later, the bank agreed to pay the largest penalty ever imposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — $185 million — for creating more than 2 million unauthorized customer accounts over five years. Wells Fargo says Tolstedt's retirement was a personal decision, and that her stock holdings were earned over her 27-year tenure."

The Fortune article seemed to hit a nerve: One day later, Wells Fargo announced it will eliminate all product sales goals in retail banking, as of the start of 2017.

That drastic change was announced just two months after Wells Fargo said Tolstedt would retire at the end of 2016. Weeks after that announcement, Tolstedt handed off her duties to another executive.

When we contacted Wells Fargo to ask about the situation Tuesday, senior vice president Mark Folk said Tolstedt is remaining with the company through December to help the transition process.

Folk says Tolstedt's $124.6 million comes from "stock that she either owns outright" or in the form of options.

As for the size of Tolstedt's holdings, Folk noted that she was at the company for nearly 30 years. When we asked about a potential "claw back" of millions in compensation for Tolstedt, Folk said Wells Fargo isn't talking about that today.

Wells Fargo saw a number of changes during Tolstedt's tenure — particularly at the end of it. Consider that in 2014, around the middle of the roughly five-year period reviewed by the CFPB, Wells Fargo set a record in reporting net income of $23.1 billion, on revenue of $84.3 billion. Tolstedt's unit accounted for around $14 billion of that year's net income.

In that year, as in every year in the 2011-2016 period that the CFPB covered in its consent order, Tolstedt collected $5,500,000 in stock as her portion of the performance share award that's split among Wells Fargo's top executives, according to the bank's proxy reports. That stock normally takes a three-year period to vest fully.

As the Fortune piece notes, Tolstedt wasn't singled out in the CFPB's actions, and it's not clear what if any involvement she had with her unit's use of the tactic of creating fake accounts to trigger incentive bonuses. But the magazine also spoke to a banking reform advocate who asked about claw-back policies: "If they don't apply here, when will they apply?"

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.