Just when it seems that executives at Wells Fargo Bank have seen the light and turned the ethics corner, along comes a news report about another fraudulent program at the bank. The New York Times reported:
"More than 800,000 people who took out car loans from Wells Fargo were charged for auto insurance they did not need, and some of them are still paying for it, according to an internal report prepared for the bank’s executives.
The expense of the unneeded insurance, which covered collision damage, pushed roughly 274,000 Wells Fargo customers into delinquency and resulted in almost 25,000 wrongful vehicle repossessions, according to the 60-page report, which was obtained by The New York Times. Among the Wells Fargo customers hurt by the practice were military service members on active duty."
The internal report, by the consulting firm Oliver Wyman, investigated auto insurance policies sold from January 2012 through July 2016. While this was happening, the bank has been recovering from a scandal where employees opened millions of phony accounts in order to game an incentive system.
Wells Fargo released a statement about how it will help affected with unwanted and unnecessary insurance, and fix its Collateral Protection Insurance (CPI) policies:
"Wells Fargo reviewed policies placed between 2012 and 2017 and identified approximately 570,000 customers who may have been impacted and will receive refunds and other payments as compensation. In total, approximately $64 million of cash remediation will be sent to customers in the coming months, along with $16 million of account adjustments, for a total of approximately $80 million in remediation... in July 2016 Wells Fargo initiated a review of the CPI program and related third-party vendor practices. Based on the initial findings, the company discontinued its CPI program in September 2016... Wells Fargo’s review determined that certain external vendor processes and internal controls were inadequate. As a result, customers may have been charged premiums for CPI even if they were paying for their own vehicle insurance, as required, and in some cases the CPI premiums may have contributed to a default that led to their vehicle’s repossession... Wells Fargo already has been providing CPI-related refunds to some customers and, beginning in August, will send letters and refund checks to customers who are due additional payments. The process is expected to be complete by the end of the year and is as follows:
i) Approximately 490,000 customers had CPI placed for some or all of the time they had adequate vehicle insurance coverage of their own... These customers will receive additional refunds of certain fees and some additional interest. Refunds for this group total approximately $25 million;
ii) In five states that have specific notification and disclosure requirements, approximately 60,000 customers did not receive complete disclosures from our vendor as required prior to CPI placement. In these cases, even if CPI was required, customers will receive a refund including premiums, fees and interest. Refunds for this group total approximately $39 million:
iii) For approximately 20,000 customers, the additional costs of the CPI could have contributed to a default that resulted in the repossession of their vehicle. Those customers will receive additional payments as compensation for the loss of their vehicle. The payment amount will depend on each customer’s situation..."
Do the math. 490,000 customers were overcharged about $25 million, or about $51 per person. 60,000 customers were overcharged $39 million or about $1,950 per person. 34 percent of borrowers (274,000 divided by 800,000) were reportedly pushed into delinquency. Substantial amounts.
Besides reimbursements, the bank said it will work with credit reporting agencies to correct affected borrowers’ credit records. That seems to be the minimum solution. Not only did the bank overcharge some customers, but it also had inadequate controls for both internal processes and external vendors. Which managers were reprimanded, or fired, for those lapses? The bank's statement didn't say. Where were the bank's auditors throughout this mess?
National General Insurance (NGI) underwrote the auto insurance policies for Wells Fargo. A lawsuit by customers named both Wells Fargo and NGI as defendants. And, at least one other law firm is investigating a possible class-action suit.
How does unwanted and unnecessary insurance help customers? Not in any way I can see. Well, it probably helped the bank's profitability for a while.
Reportedly, military service members and their families were among the affected borrowers. And, this latest program isn't the first abuse by the bank of military members and their families. Last fall, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) sanctioned the bank for improperly repossessing cars owned by members of the military. The DOJ alleged 413 violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and the bank agreed to pay more than $4 million to compensate borrowers affected by seven years of unlawful repossessions.
In June, one U.S. Senator called for the firing of all 12 board members for failing to protect account holders. It seems that unethical executive behavior at the bank will stop only when guilty executives serve jail time; not fines the bank can easily afford.
The whole sordid affair makes one wonder what other programs at the bank remain hidden. What are your opinions? If you received a refund letter and check, please share what you safely can about it below.