Federal regulators fined Wells Fargo $1.7 billion on Tuesday for “widespread mismanagement” over multiple years that harmed over 16 million consumer accounts.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Wells Fargo’s “illegal activity” included repeatedly misapplying loan payments, wrongfully foreclosing on homes, illegally repossessing vehicles, incorrectly assessing fees and interest and charging surprise overdraft fees.
The CFPB ordered Wells Fargo to pay the $1.7 billion civil penalty in addition to more than $2 billion to compensate consumers for a range of “illegal activity.”
The misconduct described by the CFPB echoes previously reported revelations that have emerged about Wells Fargo since 2016 when the bank’s fake-accounts scandal created a national firestorm.
“Wells Fargo’s rinse-repeat cycle of violating the law has harmed millions of American families,” Rohit Chopra, the CFPB’s director, said in a statement.
Chopra described Wells Fargo as a “repeat offender” and said Tuesday’s fine is just an “initial step” towards holding the bank accountable. That suggests Wells Fargo may not be out of the penalty box with regulators anytime soon.
The misconduct described by the CFPB echoes previously-reported revelations that have emerged about Wells Fargo since 2016 when the bank’s fake-accounts scandal created a national firestorm.
In a statement, Wells Fargo emphasized that the broad-reaching settlement with the CFPB resolves multiple matters, most of which have been “outstanding for several years.” The bank said the required actions are “already substantially complete.”
“We and our regulators have identified a series of unacceptable practices that we have been working systematically to change and provide customer remediation where warranted,” Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf said in the statement. “This far-reaching agreement is an important milestone in our work to transform the operating practices at Wells Fargo and to put these issues behind us.”
Wells Fargo said it expects the CFPB settlement will cost it $3.5 billion before taxes in the fourth quarter.
According to the CFPB’s enforcement action, Wells Fargo had “systemic failures” in its auto loan business that harmed more than 11 million accounts. Those failures caused Wells Fargo to wrongfully repossess some borrowers’ vehicles, to improperly charge fees and interest and to fail to refund certain fees, regulators say.
Moreover, regulators say Wells Fargo improperly denied thousands of mortgage loan modifications, causing some customers to lose their homes in “wrongful foreclosures.”
“The bank was aware of the problem for years before it ultimately addressed the issue,” the CFPB said.
Wells Fargo also “illegally” charged surprise overdraft fees and “unlawfully” froze more than 1 million consumer accounts, blocking consumers from accessing their funds for an average of at least two weeks.
The Wells Fargo scandal that began in 2016 drew a spotlight on Wells Fargo’s treatment of employees and customers, triggering Congressional hearings, countless regulatory probes and the eventual ouster of two of the bank’s CEOs.
In her final act as chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen in February 2018 threw the book at Wells Fargo by imposing unprecedented penalties on the bank that remain in place today.
The CFPB said the more than $2 billion in customer refunds Wells Fargo has been ordered to pay includes more than $1.3 billion to consumers hurt by the bank’s auto lending tactics and more than $500 million for illegal surprise overdraft fees and other misconduct related to deposit accounts.
Regulators said Wells Fargo has also been ordered to pay almost $200 million in refunds to those harmed by the bank’s mortgage servicing accounts.
Going forward, Wells Fargo has been ordered by the CFPB to make sure auto loan borrowers receive refunds for certain add-on fees and to stop charging bank account holders surprise overdraft fees.
The agency said these fees are imposed when customers have available funds at the time of purchase but then subsequently had a negative balance once the transaction settled.