By Imani Moise
DALLAS (Reuters) - Wells Fargo & Co shareholders voted to elect all of the company-nominated directors during a rowdy meeting on Tuesday in which more than a dozen attendees were kicked out for heckling executives and board members.
Though protesters and activists dominated most of the meeting, the shareholder vote reflected growing investor confidence in management. All the directors were elected with no less than 95 percent approval, according to the preliminary tally. A year ago, directors were elected with 89 percent approval.
The majority of the San Francisco-based bank's 12 board members joined Wells Fargo after the bank became mired in scandal in late 2016 for opening potentially millions of unauthorized accounts. Board Chair Betsy Duke and interim Chief Executive Allen Parker faced questions about why investors should vote for the five directors who were at the bank at the time of the wrongdoing.
Last month, proxy research firm Institutional Shareholder Services advised "cautionary support" of directors who were at the bank prior to 2017.
About 15 activists were kicked out of the meeting for interrupting Parker's remarks, as part of coordinated demonstrations by the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA). Parker had repeatedly asked them to wait for the question-and-answer segment before having security evict them.
"One of the wonderful things about shareholder democracy is that we have meetings like this," said Parker as the activists were escorted out.
NACA CEO Bruce Marks, who has a history of protesting at bank shareholder meetings, helped members buy individual shares so they could attend the meeting, he told Reuters.
The group, a non-profit mortgage broker, plans to attend Bank of America Corp's shareholder meeting on Wednesday to thank the bank for committing billions of dollars to low- and moderate-income mortgages.
The demonstrators spoke about fair lending practices, African American homeownership and fake accounts. Some called Wells Fargo executives "frauds" and said the bank could not be trusted.
Wells Fargo's annual meetings have drawn protesters every year since its fake account scandal in 2016. Since the initial revelations, regulators and the bank have uncovered problems in each of the bank's primary business segments. The scandals at the fourth-largest U.S. lender have resulted in billions of fines and penalties and claimed two CEOs after Tim Sloan announced his resignation last month.
Board Chair Duke said at the meeting Tuesday a search for an external candidate is underway and that the board would not comment on the search process until a selection is finalized.
Shareholders also approved executive pay and other management proposals. Two shareholder proposals that were rejected called for transparency about incentive pay and closing of the median gender pay gap.
(Reporting by Imani Moise; editing by Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker)