Wells Fargo wasn’t alone – other US banks also opened unauthorized accounts

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Democrats in the House Financial Services Committee released a scathing report saying Wells Fargo should be shut down after multiple repeat offenses against consumers. Jose Sepulveda (@josesepulvedatv) has more.
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A federal regulator determined Wells Fargo wasn’t the only U.S. bank that opened accounts not authorized by customers –  but has no plans to identify the institutions publicly.

A review of roughly 40 banks found that as many as 10,000 customer accounts opened during a three-year period lacked customer authorization, Joseph Otting, the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency, testified during congressional hearings this week.

The banks did not have paperwork to show whether customers had authorized approximately 10,000 other accounts, Otting said.

The new mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, checking, savings and money market accounts represent a fraction of the estimated 600 million accounts the banks opened during the three-year period, he said.

“The OCC did not find pervasive or systemic issues in regard to improper account openings but did find the need for banks to improve their policies, procedures and controls,” Otting told the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.

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Customers who were harmed by the practices are expected to be reimbursed “if they can document an account was opened inappropriately,” Otting added.

The OCC issued “matters requiring attention” notifications to the banks in question and is following up to ensure the financial institutions follow proper policies for account openings. However, Otting indicated the OCC doesn’t plan to name the banks publicly.

Republican members of House and Senate banking and finance committees did not press the issue with Otting, a former banker. However, some Democratic members of the panels demanded full disclosure.

“We are concerned that the decision to keep the specific findings of the review private leaves consumers exposed to past and future predatory behavior and impedes our ability as lawmakers to effectively conduct oversight over the banking industry,” eight Senate Democrats wrote in a Thursday letter to Otting.

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“You seem to be shilling for the banks, I have to be honest with you,” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, one of the letter signers, told Otting during the hearing.

The bank review was launched during the Obama administration in 2016 after the OCC and other regulators found that Wells Fargo opened approximately 3.5 million accounts that lacked customer approvals.

The OCC, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Los Angeles legal officials hit Wells Fargo with $185 million in penalties in September 2016. Four months ago, the Federal Reserve restricted Wells Fargo’s financial growth and ordered a shake-up of the bank’s board in a separate response to the accounts scandal.

Otting stressed that none of the banks examined during its more recent review had account-opening problems equivalent to the failures documented at Wells Fargo.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kevin McCoy on Twitter: @kmccoynyc

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