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Former Wells Fargo chief executive barred from banking industry

John Stumpf, then the CEO of Wells Fargo, appears before Congress in 2016. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Banking regulators pursuing what they describe as “systemic” misconduct in sales practices at Wells Fargo have reached an agreement with former chief executive John Stumpf that bars him from the banking industry and fines him $17.5 million.

The regulators continue to pursue civil charges, fines and prohibitions against five other executives for an array of oversight failures and deceptive methods at the bank.

The misconduct affected millions of bank customers from 2002 to 2016, according to a statement by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which sought the charges. The regulators have found, among other things, millions of accounts opened for customers without their knowledge.

While the deceptive practices were carried out by salespeople, regulators said the executives caused the problems by pushing staff to meet unreasonable sales goals and turning a blind eye to the deception.

“The actions announced by the OCC today reinforce the agency’s expectations that management and employees of national banks and federal savings associations provide fair access to financial services, treat customers fairly, and comply with applicable laws and regulations,” Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting said in a statement.

Stumpf had previously voluntarily forfeited $41 million in stock awards and returned incentives valued at $28 million. The length of the ban on working in the banking industry is open-ended, but Stumpf, 66, could eventually petition regulators to ease the restriction.

The regulators are also seeking a prohibition and $25 million in fines from Carrie Tolstedt, an executive who reported to Stumpf, and who is listed as “Head of the Community Bank.” The Community Bank is Wells Fargo’s largest line of business and, according to regulators, it was an operation that “intimidated and badgered” salespeople into enrolling customers in bank accounts and credit cards they never asked for.

“The root cause of the sales practices misconduct problem was the Community Bank’s business model, which imposed intentionally unreasonable sales goals and unreasonable pressure on its employees to meet those goals and fostered an atmosphere that perpetuated improper and illegal conduct,” according to the regulator’s court filing.

For years, employees complained to managers of the pressure and of being compelled to game the system.

Regulators cited one 2012 employee complaint sent to Tolstedt and another executive that reported employees being “forced into inappropriate activity to keep their jobs. ... Wells Fargo is playing a shell game.”

“This is sad and hard for me to say, but I had less stress in the 1991 Gulf War than working for Wells Fargo,” another employee wrote in a 2013 letter to the CEO’s office.

The company has refunded at least $42.9 million to customers in connection with a review of sales practices.

“Throughout her career, Ms. Tolstedt acted with the utmost integrity and concern for doing the right thing. A full and fair examination of the facts will vindicate Carrie,” a lawyer for Tolstedt, Enu Mainigi, said in a statement.

“At the time of the sales practices issues, the company did not have in place the appropriate people, structure, processes, controls, or culture to prevent the inappropriate conduct,” CEO and President Charles Scharf wrote Thursday in a letter to employees. “This was inexcusable. Our customers and you all deserved more from the leadership of this company.”