The remarks, made in Toledo, Ohio, bring renewed scrutiny to the bank, which has been in damage control mode since regulators alleged nearly a month ago that its employees may have opened as many as two million accounts without customers’ knowledge or permission over an approximately five-year period beginning in 2011.
“Look at Wells Fargo," she said as the crowd booed. "Really shocking, isn't it? It is outrageous that eight years after a cowboy culture on Wall Street wrecked our economy, we are still seeing powerful bankers playing fast and loose with the law.”
While Stumpf has -- at times -- placed blame for the unauthorized account openings on the 5,300 employees who “did not do the right thing” and were terminated, Clinton placed blame on the bank, saying it was “bullying thousands of employees into committing fraud against unsuspecting customers.”
Clinton did not only defend employees ensnared by the scandal, but also called out the bank for its use of forced arbitration clauses in its customer account agreements. Those agreements bar customers with claims against the bank from taking it to court and instead require that they enter into arbitration, the proceedings of which are often kept private.
“When the scam's victims, people like you and me who had accounts there, tried to sue, they were shocked to learn there was a provision in the very fine print of their contracts that kept them from going to court to sue the bank for being cheated,” Clinton said. “Instead, they are forced into a closed-door arbitration process without the important protections that you get in a court of law.”
Saying, “you know, who reads all that fine print? I don't,” Clinton pledged to “reign in that abuse.”
Clinton is not the first to criticize forced arbitration. On Sept. 23, six senators sent Wells Fargo's CEO a letter with concerns over the clauses.
“We should build on the Dodd-Frank financial reforms and go even further because Wall Street can never, ever be permitted to threaten Main Street again,” she said.
In a statement, Wells Fargo spokeswoman Jennifer Dunn said, “Our priority is to ensure customers have the products and services they want and value. If any customer has a product or service they don’t want or need, we are working to make things right. In cases where customers have received a product that they did not want or authorize, we are providing free mediation through an impartial third-party. This is fast and free to the customer.”
ABC New’s Liz Kreutz contributed to this report from Toledo, Ohio.