Wells Fargo CEO accepts responsibility for 'unethical' practices

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WASHINGTON Sept 20 (Reuters) - The chief executive officer of Wells Fargo & Co on Tuesday apologized for the bank's opening as many as 2 million bogus customer accounts that could generate fees for the lender.

"I accept full responsibility for all unethical sales practices," CEO John Stumpf told a congressional panel.

The bank's board of directors is examining what action it should take against company executives, Stumpf told the Senate Banking Committee.

Earlier this month, the lender agreed to pay $190 million in penalties and customer payouts to settle a case in which bank employees created credit, savings and other accounts without customer knowledge.

Thomas Curry, the Comptroller of the Currency, said in prepared testimony that his agency is considering action against individual Wells Fargo executives.

"The OCC may take formal enforcement actions against institution-affiliated parties, including directors, officers, and employees, who violate any law or regulation, engage in unsafe or unsound practices, or breach fiduciary duty," Curry told a hearing of the senate committee.

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Sherrod Brown, the senior Democrat on the senate panel, blasted Wells Fargo for exploiting customers and the bank's slow response to control the abuse.

"I was stunned when I learned about the breadth and duration of this fraud," the Ohio lawmaker said in his opening remarks.

Wells Fargo has acknowledged bank employees abused customers over five years and about 5,000 employees were fired in that time.

Former bank employees have said they were under intense pressure to add accounts for each bank customer.

Brown said employees were caught "forging signatures, and stealing identities, Social Security numbers, and customers' hard-earned cash, so as to hang on to their low-paying jobs and make money for the high-paying executives at Wells Fargo." (Reporting by Dan Freed in New York and Patrick Rucker in Washington; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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