I really just can’t anymore.
Wells Fargo’s latest revelation is the straw that broke my back.
Yesterday, Wells Fargo disclosed that an expanded internal investigation found that the bank opened a significantly larger amount of “potentially unauthorized” accounts than first thought.
It wasn’t the 2.1 million fake accounts that the led to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the city and county of Los Angeles handing down a $185 million fine against Wells Fargo.
It was actually much more than that. 1.4 million more, to be exact.
Instead of the 2.1 million “potentially unauthorized” accounts opened by 5,000 of the bank’s former employees in order to get sales bonuses, it was actually 3.5 million potentially unauthorized consumer and small business accounts opened during the period of the expanded investigation – from January 2009 through September 2016.
As many as 1.4 million MORE fake accounts? 3.5 million total?
ARE YOU F$*KING KIDDING ME????
Now, the bank was very careful to state that the new investigation “erred on the side of customers” by conducting “data-driven” analysis and looking at account usage patterns of consumer and small business checking, savings, and unsecured credit card and line of credit account data.
The bank also stated that “since usage patterns of some authorized accounts opened with a customer’s consent can be similar to some unauthorized accounts, it is likely that some properly authorized accounts were included in the population identified as unauthorized accounts.”
Basically, Wells Fargo is trying to say that its investigation was so thorough that it’s possible that some real accounts were included in the 3.5 million total of “potentially unauthorized” accounts.
And we use “potentially unauthorized” because that’s how the bank puts it in its materials.
The bottom line is that Wells Fargo doesn’t know for sure how many fake accounts were actually opened. In some cases, they can’t tell the difference between a fake account and a real account.
But it’s possible that the bank’s employees actually opened 3.5 million accounts in customers’ names without their authorization.
And while the bank talks a good game, stating that all affected customers will be paid back, either via direct remediation from the bank or through a $142 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit, it doesn’t change the fact that the bank’s employees preyed on the innocence and ignorance of their customers and opened millions of fake accounts to get sales bonuses.
And it doesn’t change the fact that Wells Fargo cultivated an atmosphere that encouraged its employees to take advantage of their customers.
Wells Fargo’s employees used the fact that their customers trusted the bank and the fact that some of their customers don’t check their account status every single day to commit fraud.
What’s a couple fake accounts opened up in some senior citizen’s name? They’ll never notice because we’ll close the account before they get their monthly statement in the mail. They don’t bank online, so they’ll never know. And we get our bonuses. It’s perfect.
The truth is, I’m getting sick and tired of reading about and reporting on companies taking advantage of their customers and basically getting away with it.
Sure, Wells Fargo will change how it does business, pay its big fine, pay out its big settlement, hand out its remediation, and some of the bank’s executives will lose their jobs or their bonuses (LOL!), but the bank keeps on trucking. The fake account issue becomes a mere speed bump in the bank’s history.
Wells Fargo steals from its customers, pays the fines, and gets to keep doing business.
But what happens if a person steals from Wells Fargo? Oh yeah, they go to jail.
Now, I’m not arguing that someone who breaks the law doesn’t deserve to be punished. Quite the opposite, in fact. If a person commits a crime, they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
So that makes me wonder if anyone from Wells Fargo who committed these fraudulent acts will end up in jail over this?
That’s hilarious. We don’t punish big bank employees for committing financial crimes in this country. We certainly didn’t after the financial crisis.
That’s the problem with these types of things. We rightfully blame the bank for its astounding lack of institutional control, but the people who actually committed these acts and oversaw them escape relatively unscathed.
Sure, some of them lost their jobs and lost their bonuses, but none of them are going to jail.
What we do instead (or at least what we used to do) is increase financial regulation to try to prevent companies from screwing over their customers, again.
One of the Republicans’ favorite targets is the CFPB, the agency tasked with protecting the people of this country from financial abuses.
But that’s not how Republicans and so many of the people in the financial services industry think of it.
They think of it as the bane of their existence; a truly unnecessary governmental nuisance that keeps the financial industry to being able to operate functionally and fully.
I’ve talked to enough people who work in the housing business to know that the CFPB made their lives much harder. Dealing with the CFPB and its various regulations impacts companies’ ability to serve their customers and make money.
I get why they hate the CFPB. I really do.
But, I can’t just sit back and watch the Republican Party undo all of the financial regulation borne out of the financial crisis. I just can’t.
Situations like Wells Fargo show why the CFPB must exist.
It’s absolutely, critically important to have a government agency that can protect consumers from financial institutions that lie to them, steal from them, and prey on them.
I’m sure House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and other Republicans in Washington are counting down the moments until CFPB Director Richard Cordray steps down (perhaps as soon as THIS WEEKEND) so they can replace him with a potted plant.
And with the Republicans’ chosen potted plant in charge of the CFPB, the bureau will surely be significantly less proactive about regulating the financial services industry than it has been with Cordray in charge.
They claim that the CFPB’s inaction is a signal that the bureau is a failed institution and needs to be reformed. And they’re right, but not in the way they think.
The CFPB does need to be reformed. But it needs to be strengthened, not neutered.
We need a stronger regulatory system in this country. Not a weaker one.
It needs to be smart regulation, but even with all the regulation that Dodd-Frank wrought, Wells Fargo still happened. Ocwen still happened. CitiMortgage still happened. Flagstar still happened. Transunion still happened.
And’s that just a small sample.
Financial services companies are still screwing up, whether it’s on purpose or not. And it all happened on the CFPB’s watch. So make the bureau stronger, not weaker. Allow it to truly function how it was designed to function. Let the bureau really protect people.
The CFPB needs to be there to hold those companies responsible, and to work to prevent things like Wells Fargo from happening at all.
Now, I’m sure people reading this will happily slap labels on me like “liberal,” “Democrat,” or “progressive” for suggesting that the CFPB needs to continue to exist and get stronger.
Heaven forbid someone disagree with one piece of the Republican Party line, lest they be branded as a “bleeding heart liberal” or whatever.
So be it.
This is more important than labels or political parties. It’s about common sense and doing what’s right.
It’s about making sure that people don’t get screwed over by companies that they trust with their money.
Here’s the thing. It’s entirely possible that Richard Cordray could resign over the weekend. That’s what all the rumors seem to say anyway. And if he does, we’re all about to enter a whole new world of financial regulation; one that’s different than what we’ve seen over the last few years. It’s my hope that the next version of the financial regulatory system will be better and stronger than what we have now.
But forgive me if have my doubts.