Six years ago, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $185 million in fines to various public regulators and the City of Los Angeles. As part of the deal, the bank agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department for three years in a “deferred prosecution” agreement.
Wells Fargo’s mid-level bankers were pressured to push community bankers to create more accounts. The local banker answered the call, with about 1.5 million accounts, from checking accounts to credit cards. Managers pushed employees to meet “unrealistic sales goals,” and thousands of employees in the “community banking” divisions went the extra mile. If they couldn’t pressure customers to open new accounts, they simply did it themselves.
Inside Wells Fargo, the practice was called “gaming.” Employees created false records, and/or misused customer identities to build a bigger portfolio. Besides the fines, 5,200 Wells Fargo employees involved in the scheme were let go, as was its CEO at the time.
Wells Fargo’s new chief executive, Charles Scharf, called the past practice “shocking and reprehensible.” One would think that Wells Fargo would have cleaned up its act and learned its lesson, but apparently not. Wells Fargo must have decided to “go big or go home”.
In 2020 the Justice Department announced that Wells Fargo agreed to a 3 billion dollar fine. In a statement, the DOJ said:
Wells Fargo & Company and its subsidiary, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., have agreed to pay $3 billion to resolve their potential criminal and civil liability stemming from a practice between 2002 and 2016 of pressuring employees to meet unrealistic sales goals that led thousands of employees to provide millions of accounts or products to customers under false pretenses or without consent, often by creating false records or misusing customers’ identities, the Department of Justice announced today.
That was almost three years ago. In 2022, Wells Fargo went bigger.
In a settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the bank agreed to pay back more than $2 billion to consumers. It will also pay fines and civil penalties of $1.7 billion, for a total of $3.7 billion.
According to CNBC:
“The bank’s illegal conduct led to billions of dollars in financial harm to its customers and, for thousands of customers, the loss of their vehicles and homes,” the agency said in its release. “Consumers were illegally assessed fees and interest charges on auto and mortgage loans, had their cars wrongly repossessed, and had payments to auto and mortgage loans misapplied by the bank.”
Wells Fargo has been operating under a consent decree that the company agreed to in 2016 regarding the fake account scandal. Charles Scharf has been the CEO of Wells Fargo since that 2016 scandal and, although he called past acts of banking fraud “reprehensible,” it seems that Wells Fargo has a built-in habit of hurting its customers to increase profits and, likely, to increase manager bonuses. This included things from simply creating accounts to branching out to car loans and mortgages.
Rohit Chopra, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said of Wells Fargo that it was a “rinse-repeat cycle of violating the law”. He added that the settlement was an “important initial step for accountability”.
This might sound familiar because similar statements were made in 2016 and 2020.
The CFPB has a website for customer complaints. According to the CFPB Wells Fargo customers are experiencing the same issues that should have been resolved previously.
Wash, rinse, repeat.