Wells Fargo & Company : Wells Fargo Faces Shareholders, Demonstrators, At Annual Meeting
04/24/2012| 04:36pm US/Eastern
By Cassandra Sweet and Matthias Rieker
Thousands of protesters descended upon San Francisco's financial district to protest against Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) at the bank's annual shareholder meeting here.
Wells Fargo, the second-largest U.S. bank by deposits and the largest by the number of branches, has become the target of various protests ranging from environmental groups to homeowners facing foreclosure.
Dozens of San Francisco police officers closed to vehicular traffic a part of California Street around the Merchants Exchange Building, a stone's throw from where the bank has been headquartered for its 160-year history.
As the meeting got underway minutes ago, Wells Fargo Chairman and Chief Executive John Stumpf said: "This meeting takes place...at a time of great stress for our country. People are upset and we understand."
Early in the meeting, which started at 4 p.m. EDT, one man stood up during Stumpf's remarks and delivered a monologue about how the bank has acted unfairly toward the "99%." He was escorted out of the meeting by three police officers. Shortly after that, a second vocal protestor was escorted from the meeting, also by a trio of officers.
The protests appear to be the largest since last year's Occupy San Francisco protests. The San Francisco Police Department didn't immediately return a phone message asking for details about the protest.
"What a day to start a revolution," one protester shouted, but so far the protests have been peaceful.
"We respect the right of people to peacefully express their opinion," said a Wells Fargo spokeswoman. "We are focused on fulfilling our responsibility to host our shareholder meeting and on the safety of our shareholders," as well as staff and customers.
Some protesters set their goals on trying to shut the meeting down, others were demanding that the bank forgive more debt of struggling homeowners and cut its ties to payday lenders.
Wells Fargo is the nation's largest mortgage lender and the largest mortgage servicer, and some borrowers demanded the bank forgive more debt to modify troubled mortgages.
"We very proud of our track record in helping people succeed financially and enabling businesses to thrive," a spokesman had said late Monday.
New York City Comptroller John C. Liu, who serves as investment adviser to, and trustee of, the New York City Pension Funds' 13,067,127 shares in Wells Fargo, said in a statement, "We understand the sentiments voiced by the protestors. NYC Pension Funds have asked in vain for the firm to root out and correct systemic flaws in its mortgage and foreclosure practices."
-By Matthias Rieker, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2471; email@example.com