Wells Fargo CEO sorry for 'insensitive' comments on race

©Agence France-Presse

Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf apologized over comments that said the bank's mostly-white leadership reflected the lack of available black talent

New York (AFP) - Wells Fargo's chief executive apologized Wednesday over remarks that pointed to a lack of black talent as a factor in why the bank's operating leadership remains mostly white.

Charles Scharf, who was installed about a year ago as CEO to turn around the bank following a fake accounts scandal, told employees he was sorry following news reports spotlighting Scharf's statements in June in the wake racial justice protests.

"I apologize for making an insensitive comment reflecting my own unconscious bias," Scharf said in a statement.

"There are many talented diverse individuals working at Wells Fargo and throughout the financial services industry and I never meant to imply otherwise."

In the June 16 staff memo, Scharf pledged to fortify efforts to make the bank's leadership more diverse, writing "This time it must be different."

Pointing to the company's "unique" challenges to reform itself in the wake of regulatory pressure following the fake accounts scandal, Scharf said it was "imperative" to find staff for its operating committee who had dealt with similar issues elsewhere.

"While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from with this specific experience as our industry does not have enough diversity in most senior roles," Scharf wrote in the memo.

On Wednesday, Scharf said he was committed to addressing the problem, pointing to recent appointments of black executives to prominent roles and unveiling a new anti-racism training program and accountability measures to emphasize diversity and inclusion in hiring.

"I've worked in the financial services industry for many years, and it’s clear to me that, across the industry, we have not done enough to improve diversity, especially at senior leadership levels," Scharf said.

Large banks -- and corporate America in general -- has been under scrutiny since this year's racial justice protests over the lack of diversity at the senior levels of major companies.

Earlier this month, Citigroup became the first large bank to name a women to lead a major Wall Street bank.

Shares of Wells Fargo fell 1.1 percent to4 23.39 in midday trading.