Criticized for the way it handled its data breach, many are saying that Equifax also bungled the resignation of its chief.
Nearly three weeks after the company announced that it had suffered one of the most potentially devastating data breaches in modern history, chief executive Richard F. Smith has stepped down.
The breach, which was discovered on July 29 and reported to the public on Sept. 7, affected an estimated 143 million people. The hacker(s) gained access to names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses, among other information.
Smith, 57, said he is retiring, effective immediately.
“At this critical juncture, I believe it is in the best interests of the company to have new leadership to move the company forward,” he said in a statement.
Equifax shares were down 0.5 percent Tuesday afternoon. They have fallen 27 percent in September after the company revealed the breach.
The announcement was made Tuesday by Mark Feidler, a current board member, who will serve as nonexecutive chairman. Paulino do Rego Barros Jr., president of company’s Asia Pacific region, has been appointed as interim CEO.
Smith’s move to retire comes in the wake of two high-profile departures among the Equifax’s executive ranks: Its chief information officer and chief security officer stepped down on Sept. 14.
Earlier this month, Smith called the breach a “disappointing event for our company.”
“I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes,” he said in the days following the announcement.
However, some say the retirement is an attempt to shirk responsibility.
In a statement Tuesday, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii and member of the banking committee, said Smith’s departure just days before his scheduled appearances in Congress “is an abdication of his responsibility.”
Other politicians and Twitter users took to the platform to criticize the move, as well.
It’s not real accountability if the @Equifax Chairman & CEO resigns without giving back a nickel in pay or publicly answering questions.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) September 26, 2017
— Peter Forbes (@PeterSForbes) September 26, 2017
Equifax CEO Richard Smith has resigned, says he plans to live quietly under six different stolen identities
— The Daily Edge (@TheDailyEdge) September 26, 2017
equifax exposed the majority of adult americans to decades of potential fraud and the CEO will retire to his big house & play golf somewhere
— Christopher Mims🤳 (@mims) September 26, 2017
Along with criticism and backlash following its announcement of the data breach, Equifax has been hit with a few allegations of unethical and even illegal actions.
The FBI is leading a criminal investigation into the company’s cyberattack, and the Federal Trade Commission is also looking into claims that three Equifax executives acted unlawfully in the days following the breach when they dumped millions of dollars in company stock prior to the public disclosure.
Investigators will probably pay close attention to the timing of when the breach happened, when it was discovered and when it was publically disclosed. Prior to public disclosure, Fortune reported that Equifax purchased the identity protection firm ID Watchdog for $63 million. The firm provides the type of credit monitoring and identity theft protection that consumers often turn to following these breaches.
Equifax has offered victims free credit monitoring, a deal that might have more costly to the company had it not acquired the ID Watchdog service. The massive data hack also likely bolsters demand for ID Watchdog’s services.