Bank Watch

Where will Wells Fargo stage its shareholder meeting? The mystery frustrates some investors

In about two months, Wells Fargo is expected to hold its first shareholder meeting since news of its sales scandal erupted in September. One big question on investors’ minds: Where will the gathering be held?
In about two months, Wells Fargo is expected to hold its first shareholder meeting since news of its sales scandal erupted in September. One big question on investors’ minds: Where will the gathering be held? AP

In about two months, Wells Fargo is expected to hold its first shareholder meeting since news of its sales scandal erupted in September. One big question on investors’ minds: Where will the gathering be held?

Starting in 2013, when the San Francisco-based bank held its annual shareholder meeting in Utah, Wells has moved the event to different locations around the country, typically in areas where it has sizable operations.

Although this year’s gathering is likely to be of greater interest to investors than Wells Fargo’s typical shareholder meeting, the bank isn’t giving out the location. A bank spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.

A source familiar with the matter, however, told the Observer that the gathering will be held in Florida. The source, who was not authorized to speak publicly, shared the information on condition of anonymity.

The bank is expected to officially disclose meeting details in mid-March when it files its annual proxy statement. The prospect of waiting until then is frustrating some investors already upset by the scandal.

“They should announce a venue ... well ahead of time,” said Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate for Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C-based consumer advocacy group.

By waiting, Wells, which has its biggest employee hub in Charlotte, is “disenfranchising the very people that own them,” said Naylor, who plans to attend the bank’s meeting and is calling for a location that’s “convenient.”

In September, authorities fined Wells $185 million over allegations that employees opened as many as 2 million fake customer accounts to meet aggressive sales goals. That revelation stained the bank’s image, sparked a raft of state and federal probes and raised questions about its ability to grow revenues.

This week, Wells Fargo’s board announced that it had fired four executives as part of a probe into the scandal. The bank’s independent directors also said they plan to complete their own investigation of the matter before the company’s annual shareholder meeting in April and release details by that time. The board, however, didn’t provide any information about the meeting’s date or location.

Tim Brennan, treasurer for the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association, which holds Wells shares, said he’s heard the meeting will take place April 25 in the Jacksonville, Fla., area.

Other big banks, including Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, have held the meetings outside of their headquarters city. Charlotte-based Bank of America, however, has kept its gathering in its hometown.

For many companies, it’s not unusual to wait until their proxy statements to disclose time and location details about annual shareholder meetings.

“This is unfortunately pretty typical of some companies,” Brennan said. “They schedule their meetings at some remote location and notify shareholders at the last legal minute. It makes it harder for people to participate.”

Wells Fargo’s 2013 meeting in Salt Lake City followed a tumultuous session near its headquarters in San Francisco in 2012 that was disrupted by demonstrators protesting foreclosures, bank bailouts and other issues in the wake of the financial crisis.

Before the recent movement of the meeting, Wells Fargo typically held its stockholder gatherings in California or in Minneapolis, the hometown of predecessor Norwest. In the past three years, Wells has held its annual meetings in San Antonio, Texas; St. Louis; and Scottsdale, Ariz.

This year’s meeting is likely to draw shareholders hoping to express their anger over the scandal directly to the bank’s board and executives. Naylor, of Public Citizen, said delaying the location’s announcement might not be a good idea.

“The last thing a firm trying to hide wants to do is play Marco Polo with wide-eyed protestors,” said Naylor, himself a critic of big banks. “Sadly, Wells Fargo, like so many companies, doesn’t understand that its shareholders own the company and at the very least management should be polite.”

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts

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