Buffett breaks silence on Wells Fargo bogus account scandal

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Nov 11 (Reuters) - Wells Fargo & Co made a "terrible mistake" by keeping in place sales goals that "corrupted people," billionaire investor Warren Buffett told CNN in an interview, in his first public comment on the bogus account scandal at the bank.

"It was a dumb incentive system, which when they found out it was dumb, they didn't do anything about it," Buffett told CNN's Poppy Harlow.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc, the conglomerate run by Buffett, is Wells Fargo's largest shareholder.

The scandal at Wells Fargo emerged in September when the bank agreed to pay $185 million to settle regulatory charges that some of its employees opened as many as 2 million accounts without customers' knowledge, in order to meet sales targets.

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Warren Buffett through the years
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Warren Buffett through the years
Warren Buffett speaks to the media during a press conference Monday, June 26, 2006 in New York. Buffet, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, recently announced his intention of giving 10 million shares of his company to charitable organizations, the majority going to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (L) cofers with billionaire investor Warren Buffet (R) during a meeting with Wall Street investors at the Ritz Carlton hotel February 25, 2004 in New York City. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Kathy WILLENS (Photo credit should read KATHY WILLENS/AFP/Getty Images)
Investor Warren Buffet participates in the Treasury Conference on U.S. Capital Markets Competitiveness, Tuesday, March 13, 2007, at Georgetown University in Washington. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
CLEVELAND - MARCH 25: Philanthropist Warren Buffet (C) wears a LeBron James Witness tee-shirt as he cheers for the Cleveland Cavaliers during a game against the Denver Nuggets March 25, 2007 at The Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2007 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
** FILE ** In this May 21, 2008 file photo, U.S. Billionaire investor Warren Buffet speaks during a news conference in Madrid. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is investing at least $5 billion in Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Goldman announced Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008. (AP Photo/Paul White, file)
Warren Buffet, chairman of Bershire Hathaway, arrives for the annual Allen & Co.'s media conference Wednesday, July 9, 2008, in Sun Valley, Idaho. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)
FILE - In this May 2, 2009 file photo, Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, right, waves to shareholders prior to the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb. Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway said Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009, it has agreed to buy Burlington Northern Santa Fe in a deal valuing the railroad at $34 billion.(AP Photo/Nati Harnik, file)
Warren Buffet heads to lunch after a morning session at the Sun Valley Inn for the 2011 Allen and Co. Sun Valley Conference, Thursday, July 7, 2011, in Sun Valley, Idaho. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Warren Buffett is interviewed in the White House Briefing Room in Washington, Monday, July 18, 2011, following his meeting with President Barack Obama. Obama met with members of the Giving Pledge including, Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, and others to receive and update on the program. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Billionaire investor Warren Buffet at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, Friday, July 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., right, speaks to David Rubenstein, co-founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group, during the Economic Club of Washington dinner event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, June 5, 2012. Buffett said he doesn't expect another U.S. recession unless Europe's crisis spreads. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 18: Billionaire investor Warren Buffett speaks at an event called, 'Detroit Homecoming' September 18, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. The purpose of the invitation-only event of Detroit expatriats is to give the group a chance to reconnect, reinvest and reinvent with their hometown. The topic of Buffet's conversation was, 'Why I'm Bullish on Detroit.' (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Warren E. Buffett, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., participates in a NADA Automotive forum happening in conjunction with the New York International Auto Show, Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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It also led to the departure of veteran Chief Executive John Stumpf last month.

Buffett described Stumpf as a "very decent man" who made a "hell of a mistake" and didn't correct it.

When asked by Harlow if he had advised Stumpf to step down, Buffett said he had not.

"I don't know the exact words, but I said I don't think you understand the gravity of this," he said.

The legendary investor backed Tim Sloan, who succeeded Stumpf as CEO of the third-largest U.S. bank by assets.

Buffett has over the years repeatedly praised Wells Fargo, whose stock Berkshire has owned since 1989, and this year asked the U.S. Federal Reserve for permission to buy more.

(Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)


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