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Wells Fargo Back In The Scandal Spotlight Once Again

Wells Fargo

So it seems that the unofficial rule of thumb is that if the U.S. financial regulators have a slow month, they just slap Wells Fargo with another fine, which is likely fair enough. 

The bank has been scrambling to rebuild its reputation over the past couple of years, tarnished by major scandals, but they keep coming back. As a matter of fact, “Wells Fargo scandals” is on the top of search engine results.

The Comptroller of Currency (OCC) has just fined the bank $250 million for unsafe or unsound practices related to its home lending business.

The OCC imposed a penalty on the bank for misconduct “related to material deficiencies regarding the bank’s loss mitigation activities” and violations of a 2018 consent order issued by the agency. In other words, they haven’t paid their customers back. 

Back in 2018, the bank agreed to a consent order with the OCC and paid a $1 billion fine after failing to make promised adjustments to customers’ interest rates on mortgages and automobile loans.

“Wells Fargo has not met the requirements of the OCC’s 2018 action against the bank. This is unacceptable,” said acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu in a statement.

In addition to the penalty, OCC’s issued a cease and desist order restricts the bank from acquiring certain third-party residential mortgage servicing. It also requires the bank to ensure that borrowers are not transferred out of the bank’s loan portfolio until remediation is provided 

“… today’s action puts limits on the bank’s future activities until existing problems in mortgage servicing are adequately addressed,” OCC said in the statement.

In its own press release, Wells Fargo acknowledged the OCC’s regulatory action, saying that the disputed practices have ended.  

“Building an appropriate risk and control infrastructure has been and remains Wells Fargo’s top priority. The OCC’s actions today point to work we must continue to do to address significant, longstanding deficiencies,” said Charlie Scharf, Wells Fargo’s CEO.

As a result of those “deficiencies”, the bank has paid more than $5 billion in various penalties since 2016.

The new fine comes three years after the Federal Reserve imposed an asset cap on the bank to limit its ability to grow its balance sheet until it addressed the improper accounts and practices.

Also in 2018, Wells Fargo was forced to pay the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) $1 billion in a settlement over charges that the bank had levied inappropriate fees on mortgage borrowers and forced loan customers to purchase auto insurance.

The Department of Justice also imposed a hefty $2.09-billion fine on the bank for the sale of residential mortgage loans that contained misstated income information.

The bank’s most notorious scandal was the 2016 revelation that it had opened 3.5 million dummy accounts using the personal data of customers. Then if followed up by slapping phony charges on them to cushion the bottom line.  

Other than that, the bank was fined for several other irregular practices such as overcharging in multiple units, improperly repossessing the cars of members of the military, overcharging small business retailers, and charging people with car loans for insurance without their knowledge. 

In the latest bad PR move, the bank informed its customers in July that it is closing all existing personal lines of credit--for good. The bank admitted that the closure of the accounts may have an impact on the credit score.

Wells Fargo said it was discontinuing the product in order to focus on personal loans and credit cards. 

However, after being criticized by public and officials, including former presidential

candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren--who said that customers shouldn’t suffer “just because their bank is restructuring after years of scams and incompetence”--Wells Fargo dropped its plans.

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