Wells Fargo investors back leaders despite protests – Reuters Money

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) investors gave strong backing to the bank’s directors and executives on Tuesday, suggesting they are ready to give its revamped leadership time to rebuild from scandal despite a noisy annual shareholder meeting.

Guards hold back about 100 protestors gathered in a hotel lobby outside Wells Fargo & Co’s annual shareholder meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ross Kerber

Wells Fargo executives said each of the bank’s 12 director nominees received more than about 89 percent support from investors and 92 percent of shares were cast in favor of the pay of Chief Executive Tim Sloan and other leaders.

The figures amounted to a relatively strong outcome considering the criticism the bank had faced from some quarters ahead of the meeting.

Though occasionally confronted by protesters and skeptics, Sloan and bank Chair Elizabeth Duke mostly stayed on their message of atonement during the gathering, which lasted about 2-1/2 hours.

“We have made mistakes, and we’ve acknowledged those mistakes,” Sloan said at one point.

While both Sloan and Duke faced tough questioners on a variety of subjects, at several points they received loud applause from the audience of several hundred in a Des Moines hotel ballroom.

FILE PHOTO: A Wells Fargo logo is seen at the SIBOS banking and financial conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

When California State Treasurer John Chiang rose to challenge Sloan’s pay at one point, Duke responded that “I disagree with your analysis of it. Tim’s time with the company is an advantage.” Her comment received much more applause.

The event came days after Wells Fargo said it would pay regulators $1 billion over mortgage and auto lending abuses, adding to issues prompting calls for more shakeups at the third-largest U.S. bank.

Just before the meeting started, about 100 protesters marched into the lobby of the Marriott hotel where it was being held in downtown Des Moines, holding signs for causes including predatory lending reforms and controls on firearm-related lending.

A few protesters scuffled briefly with guards who prevented the group from ascending an escalator to the second floor as the meeting began.

The bank had already agreed to publish a business standards review, prompting shareholders led by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia to withdraw a shareholder resolution that demanded details on the cultural and ethical causes of recent scandals.

In 2016 the bank admitted employees had opened potentially millions of sham accounts, triggering a leadership revamp. Regulatory issues have persisted, with the Federal Reserve in February capping its growth until governance and controls improve.

There had been signs investors would likely show patience on Tuesday.

Proxy advisers Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis recommended investors cast nonbinding votes in favor of the pay of executives including Sloan, who received a package worth $17.6 million last year. Both advisers also backed Sloan and nearly all other candidates standing for 12 seats on the board, including eight new independent directors since 2015.

The only exception was Glass Lewis’ recommended vote against John Baker, a director since 2009.

Internally, Sloan’s pay had drawn criticism from some company employees ahead of the shareholder meeting.

Wells Fargo is based in San Francisco but has staged annual meetings elsewhere in recent years, including in Florida, Arizona and St. Louis. Its home mortgage and home equity businesses are based in Des Moines and it has about 14,500 workers in and around the city.

Wells Fargo shares were down 5 cents at $52.56 on Tuesday afternoon.

Reporting by Ross Kerber in Des Moines; Writing by Meredith Mazzilli; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Matthew Lewis

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