Risk & Compliance

Wells Fargo Fined $3B Over Fake-Accounts Scandal

“This case illustrates a complete failure of leadership at multiple levels within the bank," a prosecutor says.
Matthew HellerFebruary 24, 2020

Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $3 billion to resolve criminal and civil liabilities arising from its fake-accounts but its legal troubles may be far from over.

The deal announced on Friday applies to a Department of Justice criminal investigation of Wells Fargo for falsifying bank records and identity theft and a Securities and Exchange Commission civil investigation of the bank for disclosure violations.

Of the $3 billion in penalties, $500 million will go the SEC.

“This case illustrates a complete failure of leadership at multiple levels within the bank. Simply put, Wells Fargo traded its hard-earned reputation for short-term profits, and harmed untold numbers of customers along the way,” Nick Hanna, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said in a news release.

According to CNN, “The agreement removes a major cloud that has been hovering above Wells Fargo for years” but “still leaves open the possibility that current and former Wells Fargo employees could be prosecuted.”

Additionally, the Labor Department is still investigating whether Wells Fargo committed wage theft and retaliated against whistleblowers and the bank is still operating under an unprecedented cap on asset growth imposed by the Federal Reserve.

“If that so-called asset cap is not removed soon, Wells Fargo may not be able to make the loans required to boost profits,” CNN said.

In a statement, Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf said that “the conduct at the core of today’s settlements — and the past culture that gave rise to it — are reprehensible and wholly inconsistent with the values on which Wells Fargo was built. Our customers, shareholders and employees deserved more from the leadership of this company.”

The SEC’s investigation found that Wells Fargo misled investors about the success of the “cross-selling” strategy of the community bank division that was at the center of the fake-accounts scandal.

“Wells Fargo referred to the Community Bank’s cross-sell metric as proof of its success at executing on this core business strategy,” but failed to disclose that “the publicly reported cross-sell metric included significant numbers of unused or unauthorized accounts,” the SEC said in an administrative order.