Every Wells Fargo consumer scandal since 2015: A timeline

Senior Writer
Yahoo Finance
FILE PHOTO: A Wells Fargo bank sign is pictured in downtown Los Angeles, California, U.S. August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A Wells Fargo bank sign is pictured in downtown Los Angeles, California, U.S. August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

On Sept. 8, 2016, Wells Fargo (WFC) admitted that it had created millions of accounts in the names of its clients without their permission. For the one big bank that had escaped the financial crisis of 2008 with a good reputation as a Main Street firm, this breach of the most basic element of banking — trust — unspooled that reputation.

Twenty-three months later, the bank’s reputation has not been recovered. In fact, it has sunk deeper as more news of its bad behavior has steadily trickled out, along with the announcement of fines and settlements.

Even after the bank’s CFO John Shrewsberry, who, at a conference in New York on May 30, said the bank’s scandals were all out in the open (“I don’t think at this point that there’s anything meaningful that we aren’t already talking about”), the bank has struggled to steer clear of the headlines.

Just last week, Wells Fargo disclosed that a software glitch accidentally denied nearly 400 customers the ability to modify their mortgages, which led to the bank foreclosing on their homes. It can be difficult to keep track of everything. Here is a list of the important points. For the ongoing ones, of course, some may end in the bank’s favor.

September 2016: The fake account scandal

Wells Fargo’s public woes kicked off with $185 million in fines from the CFPB, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the City and County of Los Angeles for the creation of 1.5 million fake deposit accounts and over 500,000 fake credit cards, all in customer names and without their permission. The bank had fired 5,300 low-level employees for creating these accounts under extreme sales pressure. This kind of sales pressure was known to cause similar issues at large banks, academic research had shown.

In the aftermath of this scandal, then-CEO John Stumpf was fired and had $41 million in compensation clawed back. Later that month Wells Fargo said it would stop unreasonable sales goals.

In a class action suit, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $142 million to the affected parties, which included millions of customers.

September 2016: Improperly repossessing service members’ cars

The Department of Justice slapped Wells Fargo’s wrist for improperly repossessing the cars of members of the military.

The bank did not limit interest rates to 6% (as is required by law), failed to tell courts the borrowers were active-duty when it asked for evictions, and failed to obtain court papers prior to repossessing cars.

The bank ended up paying $20 million in fines to the OCC and made restitution of over $10 million to wronged service members.

December 2016: Wells Fargo fails its ‘living will’ test

U.S. regulators restricted Wells Fargo’s size after it failed a “living will” test, a requirement that big banks must show how they would unwind in the event of a bankruptcy.

March 2017: More fake accounts

A new estimate of 3.5 million fake accounts emerges, a figure 1.4 million higher than the initial estimates when the fake account scandal emerged. Wells Fargo said this number was unverified and hypothetical, but eventually says there may be up to 3.5 million accounts.

March 2017: Flunked community lending test

Wells Fargo did very poorly on an OCC test for community lending, getting a “needs to improve.” The regulator cited “violations across multiple lines of business within the bank” and “significant harm to customers.” The regulation is to promote lending in lower-income communities.

April 2017: Whistleblower wins $5.4 million and his job back

OSHA ordered Wells Fargo to pay $5.4 million to a former Wells Fargo wealth manager, fired in 2010, after reporting potential fraud to a hotline. The bank has fought the fine and in August 2018 more of the story emerged.

August 2017: Lawsuit over overcharging small business retailers

Wells Fargo was sued for allegedly overcharging small business retailers for credit card services, hitting them with massive early termination fees and a “deceptive” 63-page fine print agreement that hid terms from small-business retailers. A former employee told CNNMoney that “God would have had a hard time” escaping the contract, and that the employee was told to target “mom-and-pop shops without legal support.”

The bank denies and is fighting the claims.

February 2018: Federal Reserve restricts size

In February, the Federal Reserve announced that it would restrict the bank’s growth, “responding to widespread consumer abuses and compliance breakdowns.”

February 2018: Sacramento sues over discrimination against black and Latino borrowers

The city sued the bank, citing illegal practices that suppressed property values in “minority and low-income communities,” costing the city in the process. According to the city, black borrowers with FICO scores over 660 were three times as likely to get a high-cost or high-risk loan as a white borrower.

The lawsuit is ongoing, and the bank is fighting the charges.

March 2018: Wealth management investigation emerges

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department had told Wells Fargo to investigate its wealth-management business. The bank said it was investigating “whether there have been inappropriate referrals or recommendations,” within its Wealth and Investment Management business.

April 2018: $1 billion settlement for mortgage locks and auto-loan issues

Wells Fargo, the CFPB, and the OCC reached a $1 billion settlement for auto-loan issues and mortgage practices. Wells Fargo acknowledged it had charged people with car loans for insurance without their knowledge, even if they already had insurance. The issues bubbled to the surface the previous summer and fall after the bank was hit by lawsuits from wronged consumers.

The bank had also charged customers for extending mortgage-rate locks, even if the bank was responsible for the delay.

May 2018: Altering business information without client knowledge

The Wall Street Journal reported that Wells Fargo’s wholesale banking division altered business information like Social Security numbers and dates of birth without client knowledge. The Journal said that the incidents happened as the bank was trying to comply with a deadline related to an anti-money laundering control.

Wells Fargo said no customers were negatively impacted.

May 2018: $480 million to settle securities-fraud lawsuit

In the wake of the fake account scandal, Wells Fargo faced securities fraud allegations. Investors claimed the bank knew about the fake account issue but failed to disclose it to investors, who considered it material. The bank settled for $480 million.

June 2018: SEC fine for leading investors astray

The SEC heaped a $4 million fine on Wells Fargo and forced it to repay over $1 million in ill-gotten gains and interest to mom-and-pop investors at Wells Fargo Advisors, the bank’s brokerage arm.

The bank was encouraging investors to actively trade high-fee debt products that were not supposed to be actively traded. The bank did not admit wrongdoing but made changes in response to the matter.

July 2018: Refunds over add-ons like pet insurance and legal services

Wells Fargo refunded tens of millions of dollars, according to the Wall Street Journal, after adding services like pet insurances and legal services to consumers’ accounts without consumers’ “full understanding,” and the CFPB is looking into it. The bank stopped add-on products in 2017. Other banks have paid settlements over similar issues.

July 2018: Private Bank wealth management issues

Yahoo Finance uncovered issues with the Private Bank part of Wells Fargo’s wealth management business. For years, the bank had operated with a heavy sales culture that pressured advisors to make decisions not necessarily in their clients’ best interest.

August 2018: Wells Fargo pays $2.1 billion for its role in housing bubble

Wells Fargo agreed to pay a $2.1 billion fine after facing allegations that it had improperly represented mortgages it sold to investors during the housing bubble. This was expected and is similar to the other banks involved in the financial crisis, but Wells Fargo was one of the last banks to deal with these issues.

August 2018: Hundreds of houses foreclosed on due to computer glitch

The bank had to set aside $8 million to make things right for 625 people who were incorrectly denied loan modifications; 400 of them had their homes foreclosed upon.

Correction 8/9/2018:  A previous version of this article said the Federal Reserve asked Wells Fargo to replace members of its board. The changes were voluntary, current with the Fed’s restrictions.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, retail, personal finance, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

Read more:

Wells Fargo automated high-net worth wealth management

What to Read Next