Wells Fargo is making things right for its customers, building a better banking experience, identifying and fixing its problems, and becoming better and stronger each day. This is what the company’s website says, anyway.
However, Wells Fargo’s actual banking practices continue to be at odds with the increasingly cheerful and apologetic tone of their advertising copy. This week, a new regulatory filing revealed that hundreds of customers — 625 in total — were denied loans and, in many cases, foreclosed upon because a company computer glitch marked “certain accounts” between April 2010 and October 2015 as undergoing the foreclosure process. The company said in the filing that it set aside $8 million to pay off those affected. It later issued a statement saying it was “very sorry,” according to CNN.
In ten years, Wells Fargo apology ads are going to be 3% of the US economy. https://t.co/vFJgxOvizI
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) August 5, 2018
Wells Fargo says that it’s “sorry” a lot these days. For good reason: The bank has racked up an impressive portfolio of scandalous snafus that have contributed to the detriment of its customers. And while the bank has been fined billions of dollars over the years, none of its executives have yet been sent to prison.
That’s a fact worth keeping in mind, considering that the company’s wide array of ignominies included a scheme wherein Wells Fargo employees created 2 million fake credit card and bank accounts in their customers names, without those customers’ knowledge or consent. For that scandal, the bank was fined $185 million in 2016 and 5,300 people were fired — with the blame being placed on a company-wide incentive structure that pressures low-level employees to bring in new business, according to the Street.
Since 2000, the federal government has slapped Wells Fargo with a grand total of $12.5 billion in fines, for a range of unlawful practices including mortgage abuses, banking violations, toxic securities abuses, and False Claims Act violations, according to the corporate watchdog group Good Jobs First. But, Republicans, through the passage of its corporate tax cuts over the winter, have ensured that the fines will not be damaging to the bank’s bottom line.
Wells Fargo was estimated to save $3.7 billion from that corporate tax rate reduction. In an interview, CEO Tim Sloan made it clear that the bank planned to return that money to its shareholders. The company, nevertheless, did not disabuse anyone of the notion that its tax reform windfall made it back to its average-Joe American employees when the bank implemented a previously-planned minimum wage hike, which really only cost the bank $80 million.
Just last week, Wells Fargo was forced to pay $2.09 billion in fines because it contributed to the downfall of the American economy leading up to the 2007 recession by creating and selling tens of thousands of loans that were packaged into securities and later defaulted, according to U.S. Attorney’s Office of Northern California. The residential mortgage loans it sold “contained misstated income information and did not meet the quality that Wells Fargo represented,” the U.S. Attorney’s office announced.
The company did not admit any liability; Sloan contended the matter could be chalked up to “legacy issues,” according to CNBC.
In recent weeks, Wells Fargo has been trying to earn back the American people’s trust by “fixing what went wrong, making things right,” according to a new advertising campaign. Their ubiquitous commercials feature a montage of regular Americans, from hard hat-clad laborers, designer store shoppers availing themselves of the bank’s mobile app, and at least one parent trusting enough to walk their excited child into one of its branches. (There is also lots of cowboy imagery.) “Wells Fargo: Established 1852. Re-established 2018,” the commercial’s announcer stated proudly.
It is still unclear when customers may start to see all of this promised change. That commercial aired less than a month after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency fined Wells Fargo $1 billion — the largest fine ever levied by both agencies — for essentially scamming thousands of its customers. According to the Washington Post, Wells Fargo charged thousands of its customers for auto insurance they didn’t need — which in turn caused their customers to default on their loans and lose their cars. The bank was also so fined for having imposed improper fees on customers for the privilege of being allowed to lock into certain mortgage interest rates.
The bank has made a point of robbing from their customers in recent years. Last year, the bank admitted it enrolled customers in programs without their knowledge in an effort to meet aggressive sales goals, according to CNBC. A total 3.5 million accounts were affected.
In February, the Federal Reserve told the bank it could not grow beyond $2 trillion in assets until it was determined that they can function without scamming people. The bank agreed to remove four people from their board of directors by the end of the year, with Sloan insisting that the bank was “focused on addressing all of the Federal Reserve’s concerns.”
Sometimes the bank’s schemes aren’t just illegal, they’re racist as well. A complaint filed last year at a federal court in Pennsylvania claimed that Wells Fargo offered minorities more expensive and riskier mortgages than it offered its white customers, a violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Another lawsuit filed in 2014 by Cook County, Illinois, alleged that the bank issued home loans with high interest rates and inflated fees to African American and Hispanic borrowers, even when it was clear that those borrowers would not be able to pay off their costly payment plans, according to the Huffington Post.
And in 2012, the bank agreed to pay $432.5 million to end a lawsuit that alleged it was engaged in discriminatory lending practices in Memphis, Tennessee. Similar discrimination lawsuits were filed against the Wells Fargo and other big banks in a number of cities throughout the country, including Los Angeles and Miami.
This past February, the City of Sacramento became the latest to accuse the bank of “intentionally steering” minority borrowers into higher cost loans, a “long-standing” practice that reduced home values of minority and low-income communities and increased foreclosures, according to CNN. That particular lawsuit cited four anonymous former mortgage employees of the bank.
There is evidence that the company also engages in gender discrimination against their employees as well. As one 2017 study suggests, the bank’s female financial advisers are punished more harshly after complaints of misconduct than their male counterparts, even though they are less likely to commit violations.
The bank has made a number of questionable investments as well. For instance, Wells Fargo has helped finance the private prisons the Trump administration uses to detain immigrants and asylum-seekers. The bank also helps finance the assault weapon manufacturing industry, providing a line of credit to Vista Outdoor and a revolving $78 million line of credit to Smith & Wesson. What’s more, Wells Fargo financed and serviced the parent company of the Dakota Access Pipeline project, prompting large cities, including Seattle, to divest billions from the bank.
One would think a company as devoted to cleaning up its act as Wells Fargo would likely encourage its employees to speak up and let its managers and executives know when it is committing wrongdoing. But instead the bank has a history of retaliating against its whistleblowers and is bogged down by a pending whistleblower-related lawsuit by former employees.
All in all, Wells Fargo’s valued customers are left waiting for when, exactly, they will start to see the some of the change they’ve been promised.