Wells Fargo is still being haunted by its history of ripping off customers.
More than four years after the Wells Fargo fake-accounts scandal erupted, the bank reported Friday another $321 million of quarterly losses tied to customer refunds. That brings Wells Fargo’s 2020 total for what it calls customer “remediation” to a staggering $2.2 billion.
Wells Fargo did not specify which of its many scandals were responsible for the latest refunds, which bank executives had previously suggested were in the rearview mirror. Instead, the bank said the money is “primarily for a variety of historical matters.” That could include anything from the millions of fake accounts Wells Fargo admitted to opening, to forcing customers to pay for unneeded auto insurance or charging unnecessary mortgage fees.
The losses underscore how Wells Fargo is still being dogged by what the Federal Reserve has called “widespread customer abuse.”
Charlie Scharf, Wells Fargo’s fourth CEO since the fall of 2016, acknowledged the toll on the bank’s bottom line.
“Our results continued to be impacted by the unprecedented operating environment and the required work to put our substantial legacy issues behind us,” Scharf said in a statement.
Despite the legal troubles, Wells Fargo managed to grow its fourth-quarter profit by 5% to $3 billion. That’s because in the year-ago period Wells Fargo set aside $1.5 billion of litigation expenses linked to its scandals.
But the bank disappointed Wall Street by reporting a 10% slide in revenue to $17.9 billion. The bank’s shares fell more than 3% in premarket trading, eating into its 2021 gains. Last year, Wells Fargo lost 44% of its value, far outpacing the losses among other big banks.
The bank is really hurting from extremely low interest rates, which make it hard for lenders to make money. Net interest income, a key metric of profitability, plunged 17% because of low rates and lower loans.
By contrast, rival JPMorgan Chase reported a record quarterly profit Friday, boosted by its Wall Street arm.
Unlike its rivals, Wells Fargo can’t outrun low rates by either lending more or spending less. That’s because Wells Fargo is still operating under an unprecedented asset cap imposed by the Fed three years ago. Those sanctions limit Wells Fargo’s ability to lend and requires it to spend more to resolve its compliance problems.