The title is a reference to the classic (and no longer copyrighted) holiday movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Jimmie Stewart’s nemesis in movie is a curmudgeonly banker named Mr. Potter.
This just in from Minnesota.
It seems that Wells Fargo was sued by non-profits who had asked the bank to invest their money. The bank racked up enormous fees, gigantic profits and hefty bonuses— for itself and the non-profits lost their money. Here’s what the judge had to say about the bank’s conduct. Bold is mine.
The judge said that the nonprofits’ lawyers, led by Minneapolis litigator Mike Ciresi, provided a “public benefit” by bringing the bank’s wrongdoing to light. Thus, Monahan said, the bank must pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees and costs, which Ciresi’s firm estimated at more than $15 million…
Terry Fruth, a Minneapolis attorney who has been watching the case closely on behalf of his clients, said Monahan’s post-trial order could help other investors prove similar claims against the bank.
“The judge didn’t just find that Wells Fargo acted with disregard to the rights and interests of the particular plaintiffs,” Fruth said of Monahan. “He said the way it ran the program was with disregard to the rights of the customers. … He has made a finding that is going to bind Wells Fargo in other cases.”
The judge also seems to understand full well how banking works in America:
…Wells Fargo Chairman and CEO John Stumpf and retired Chairman Richard Kovacevich… said they knew nothing about problems in the securities-lending program in 2007. Stumpf said he didn’t know the bank even had such a program.
Monahan said that he found the executives’ statements “to be almost childlike” and that he accepts “that one of the primary functions of subordinates in today’s corporate America is to shield their ultimate superiors from accumulating embarrassing information….
“Wells Fargo was fully aware of the increased risk it was injecting into the securities lending program, that its line managers were not reasonably managing that risk, and that its actions and inactions had the potential for inflicting enormous harm on plaintiffs.”
When the program got into trouble, the judge said, “Wells Fargo’s attitude and conduct … was primarily to shield itself, and its favored customers, from the consequences.”
The bankers’ lack of accountability here is stunning. We regularly expect and receive a higher level of morality, fidelity to duty, effectiveness and basic human decency from hands on caregivers in long term care organizations. We get all of that and much more. We pay them far less than they deserve.
I’m betting that Wells Fargo is getting coal in its stocking this year.
Hopefully, this ruling will be the start of a recalibration of justice and worth in our society.
That, for what it’s worth, is my Christmas wish.