Wells Fargo: Rotten to the Core  

Bruce Plante Cartoon: Wells Fargo Bank

In April 2017, Wells Fargo launched a new campaign, “Building Better Every Day,”  to reset its public image after apologizing profusely about cheating some customers and agreeing to pay restitution.

It looks like the bank needed more than an expensive rebranding effort.

According to the Wall St. Journal, the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) sent a letter to Wells Fargo in November saying it is weighing a formal enforcement action against the bank over improprieties in its auto-insurance and mortgage operations.

The letter said the bank repeatedly failed to correct problems in a broad range of areas.

The letter came after other allegations against the bank. According to NASDAQ, some of Well’s Fargo’s business customers were cheated when an internal review found that out of approximately 300 fee agreements for foreign exchange trades, only about 35 business clients were charged the actual price they had been quoted by Wells Fargo bankers for the trades. Some of the bank’s foreign exchange bankers were motivated by the fact that, unlike at other big banks, they were paid bonuses based solely on how much revenue they brought in.

Wells Fargo has fired four foreign-exchange bankers, while federal investigators have opened their own investigation of the operation.

In august 2017, Warren Buffet, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, a large investor in Wells Fargo, said he expected bad news to keep coming from the bank. “There’s never just one cockroach in the kitchen,” he told CNBC on Squawk Alley, a CNBC news program.

He was right.

Wells Fargo has a history of malfeasance.

In 2015, the Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program entered into a national settlement agreement with Wells Fargo Bank N.A. (Wells Fargo) requiring that the bank pay $81.6 million for its repeated failure to provide 68,000 homeowners with legally required notices related to mortgage payments. Wells Fargo’s actions violated federal bankruptcy rules, thereby denying homeowners the opportunity to challenge the accuracy of mortgage payment increases.

“When creditors fail to comply with the bankruptcy laws and rules, they compromise the integrity of the bankruptcy system and must be held accountable.,” said a Department of Justice release on the settlement.

In the summer of 2016, Wells Fargo admitted to the OCC that it improperly charged customers for collateral-protection insurance on their cars financed through the bank.

In July 2017, the bank said it had found 800,000 customers potentially affected by the improper charges, with 274,000 of them forced into delinquency on their car loans as a result and 25,000 cars wrongly repossessed. Wells Fargo said it would refund customers about $80 million in charges.

In Sept. 2016, Wells Fargo settled for $24.1 million with the Justice Department and the OCC over the improper repossession of cars owned by members of the U.S military.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act requires a court order to repossess a vehicle if a service member took out a loan and made a payment before entering military service.

“We all have an obligation to ensure that the women and men who serve our country in the armed forces are afforded all of the rights they are due,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California told the Los Angeles Times. “Wells Fargo failed in that obligation.”

That same month, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $185 million to settle lawsuits related to the bank’s creation of customer accounts without the customers being aware of the activity. The sham accounts were created by employees under pressure to perform or be fired.

Wells Fargo said initially that the practice involved the creation by employees of up to 2.1 million sham accounts. In Aug. 2017, Wells Fargo said it found 1.4 million more sham bank and credit card accounts, bringing the total up to 3.5 million.

As Bloomberg’s Matt Levine put it, “…the Wells Fargo scandal took a lot of coordinated nefarious effort.”

Wells Fargo also found that thousands of customers were enrolled in online bill pay programs without their authorization. Wells Fargo said it found 528,000 potentially unauthorized online bill pay enrollments. Wells Fargo employees set up the accounts to meet product sales goals. In this case, the bank said it would return $910,000 to people enrolled in those accounts without their permission.

With all this, there’s no question that Wells Fargo is guilty of a gross betrayal of its customers’ trust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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