More than two years after Wells Fargo & Co. said it had created perhaps millions of unauthorized customer accounts, the scandal ignited by that admission has more than persisted — it's spread, raising questions about how long chief executive Tim Sloan can keep his place atop the troubled lender.
Critics, notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) have repeatedly pushed the bank to fire Sloan, saying his 31-year tenure with the San Francisco-based bank means he knew or should have known about problems. And calls for a new chief executive aren't likely to die down given developments over the last year.
The bank has been hit with additional federal enforcement actions, including a $1 billion fine and an order to stop growing until it can show it has addressed its problems. This spring, it acknowledged it had foreclosed on hundreds of homeowners after improperly denying them mortgage modifications.
And last month, the bank put two high-level executives on leave and removed them from a key leadership committee, reportedly because of pressure from regulators — potentially a sign that regulators believe Sloan has not done enough to clean house since taking over the top post shortly after the scandal broke in September 2016.
Now, with Democrats winning control of the House of Representatives, and Wells Fargo critic Rep. Maxine Waters expected to take over as chair of the House Financial Services Committee, analysts say it's likely Sloan will be called to testify before that panel.
As with former CEO John Stumpf — who stepped down shortly after a pair of bruising Capitol Hill appearances weeks after the bank was hit with a $185 million fine over the unauthorized accounts — a new round of hearings could help decide Sloan's fate, said Ed Mills, a public policy analyst at financial services firm Raymond James.
"I think the wild card here really is if and when that hearing comes," Mills said. "Unless you show up and are able to go on the offensive and come through with a solid performance that reestablishes confidence in you from investors, Congress, and the regulators, then you're probably going to be forced to make additional changes."
Not everyone on Wall Street thinks the risks of Capitol Hill hearings are all that dire.
Brian Kleinhanzl, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, expects hearings and said they could lead to more rough headlines, but these days that amounts to business as usual.
"It's par for the course for Wells Fargo," he said. "We don't view it as a big, long-term risk."
Political calculus aside, there may be plenty of reasons to leave Sloan in place. The bank's revelations over the last two years relate to practices that were in place before Sloan became CEO, said Robert Hockett, a Cornell University law professor and expert on financial regulation.
"They might say, 'Look, the problems were so massive, so deeply rooted, that it was bound to be the case that more problems would come to light,'" he said. "For that reason, they could be patient."