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Wells Fargo Raids Financial Services Rivals for Legal Team Trio

Feb. 11, 2021, 11:19 PM

Wells Fargo & Co. has recruited new deputy general counsels from three of its major competitors—American Express Co., Barclays PLC, and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

J. Bertram “Bert” Fuqua, Barclays’ global head of markets legal and Americas general counsel in New York, will join Wells Fargo next month as deputy general counsel for corporate and investment banking.

JPMorgan’s George Thompson, general counsel for Chase consumer and community banking marketing, digital, and project management legal, will be Wells Fargo’s deputy general counsel for consumer lending when he comes aboard this spring.

Tangela Richter, who spent four-and-a-half years in-house at AmEx, joined Wells Fargo in late January as deputy general counsel for enterprise functions.

The additions come after the San Francisco-based financial services company shed thousands of employees last year, part of a series of changes implemented by its new CEO, Charles Scharf, a former JPMorgan executive.

Wells Fargo, busy in recent months adding new talent, confirmed the hires to Bloomberg Law. The additions report to Wells Fargo’s general counsel, Ellen Patterson, a former corporate partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett hired by the company last year after serving as legal chief for Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Before Wells

Barclays hired Fuqua three years ago from UBS AG, where he spent 15 years at the Swiss banking giant as a managing director and divisional general counsel.

Barclays, which last year parted ways with its former general counsel Robert Hoyt, who was subsequently hired by HSBC Holdings PLC, promoted Fuqua to replace Emma Bailey as its Americas legal head. Bailey joined Wells Fargo in September as deputy general counsel for enterprise risk, regulatory, and audit.

Thompson’s role will be to advise Wells Fargo’s consumer lending businesses, which have made headlines in recent years as the lender emerged from a series of customer abuse scandals. The consumer operations include credit cards, retail, and merchant services; home and personal lending; and automobile financing.

Thompson was once part of a JPMorgan team that partnered with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius on a trainee program for recent law school graduates. The former associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom previously worked in-house at AmEx and Sony Corp. of America.

Richter is responsible for leading legal teams counseling Wells Fargo’s chief administrative office; technology; and strategy, digital, and innovation arms. Her group also helps handle privacy, mergers and acquisitions, and other matters.

She began her legal career as an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Tennessee-based Bass, Berry & Sims. Richter joined AmEx in 2016 and held several in-house roles for the New York-based credit card company, including corporate secretary, chief governance officer, and managing counsel.

Prior to that, Richter spent two years as a deputy general counsel at the LendingClub Corp., and nearly eight years at McLean, Va.-based Capital One Financial Corp., which she joined in 2006 and then went on to lead its securities legal team.

Richter spent the previous five years in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Corporate Finance in Washington, where she became a branch chief.

Changing Times

Scharf, Wells Fargo’s current CEO, took over in late 2019 from interim leader and former general counsel C. Allen Parker Jr., who left the company last March.

Parker, a former presiding partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, was hired by Wells Fargo in 2017 as the company was reeling from a fake accounts scandal that brought about sweeping changes to its legal group. Parker succeeded Wells Fargo’s longtime former general counsel, James Strother.

Strother was among several former Wells Fargo executives facing substantial civil fines from the Office for the Comptroller of the Currency for their alleged roles in the company’s legal and compliance failures. In January, he agreed to pay a $3.5 million fine as part of a settlement with the OCC that will require him to cooperate with federal regulators continuing to probe his former employer.

“Jim Strother is an honorable man who dedicated over 30 years in the service of Wells Fargo,” said a statement from his lawyer, Walter Brown, who recently joined Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. “He retired in 2017 and is pleased to put this matter behind him.”

Wells Fargo’s search for a new general counsel last year led it to Patterson, who after being hired, set about assembling a new team of direct reports.

The company recruited former McGuireWoods partner Cynthia Guerin—who spent nearly three decades at Bank of America Corp.—as senior counsel. It also added chief regulatory and policy affairs executive Michael Lipsitz, a former legal chief at Santander USA Holdings Inc. who in January was named head of Wells Fargo’s new Office of Consumer Practices.

Wells Fargo promoted Michelle Rhee last summer to deputy general counsel for wealth and investment management. Rhee, another former BoA lawyer that Wells Fargo initially hired in 2018 to be legal chief for its asset management arm, is one of several deputy general counsel at the bank.

Others include Douglas Edwards, a former top lawyer at Wells Fargo predecessor Wachovia Corp. who stepped in on an interim basis to replace Parker as general counsel prior to Patterson’s hire last year. Edwards is now deputy general counsel for global commercial and securities.

Legal Turnover

Wells Fargo’s spate of new deputy general counsel hires has in part been spurred by a need to replace those that have left.

Bailey and Richter were hired to replace former deputy general counsel Suzanne Alwan and Bevelyn Coleman, respectively. Coleman was hired Jan. 19 as deputy general counsel for the consumer banking group at Regions Financial Corp., which itself hired a new top lawyer last year.

Wells Fargo said it’s currently conducting and internal and external search to replace departed deputy general counsel Thomas Trujillo, who was also the legal group’s chief operations officer.

Heidi Mason, a former senior deputy general counsel and head of consumer banking legal at Wells Fargo, and who at one point was considered a potential successor to Strother as legal chief, has landed a new job after leaving the bank in 2019.

Mason joined ElevateNext, the legal arm of alternative legal services provider Elevate Services Inc., as a Des Moines, Iowa-based partner in November.

Some of Wells Fargo’s legal reshuffling has come outside of its law department.

Wells Fargo hired former JPMorgan managing director and global head of employee compliance Jennifer Boyle-Devine as head of conduct risk in October. That was the same month that attorney and former business risk and controls manager Catherine Calko left the bank to become director of audit and compliance for Spring Oaks Capital LLC, a Chesapeake, Va.-based consumer debt buyer.

While Boyle-Devine was once a senior attorney at Shearman & Sterling, Wells Fargo said she works within its risk management group, not as part of its legal function.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com