GOP report accuses watchdog of going easy on Wells Fargo

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau could have fined Wells Fargo in excess of $10 billion for its illegal sales practices but instead settled for $100 million, according to the agency’s internal documents released by Congressional Republicans this week.

The CFPB also had evidence that the bank’s sales problems went back to at least 2006 — far earlier than the 2011 to 2016 timetable that Wells Fargo originally admitted to, the documents show.

“The bank knew since at least 2006 that its employees were gaming its incentive compensation program, yet failed to take actions sufficient to stop it,” CFPB employees wrote in a 2016 confidential memo.

The documents were released as part of a politically-charged report by the staff of House Financial Services Committee Chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, a critic of the CFPB who along with other House Republicans has called for the firing of its director, Richard Cordray, an appointee of President Barack Obama, as well as new laws to curtail the bureau’s authority over the financial services industry.

It would take months for Wells Fargo to admit publicly that its sales practices problems, in which employees trying to reach unrealistic sales goals opened accounts without customers’ permission, dated earlier than 2011. At first, then Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf agreed to expand its internal investigation to 2009 but when testifying in front of Congress in late September 2016, he was reluctant to go back further than that.

Eventually Wells Fargo would admit the sales practices problems as early as 2002 in a report issued by the bank’s board of directors earlier this year, roughly seven months after the CFPB’s fine.

It is not clear why the CFPB chose 2011 as the original cut-off date for getting Wells Fargo to admit its sales practices problems. A Wells Fargo spokeswoman declined to comment on the date issue, but said they are reviewing the report.

CFPB employees estimated that based on the 2 million fake accounts that Wells Fargo’s employees had opened, the penalty against the bank could be in excess of $10 billion before taking into account mitigating factors. That’s according to a confidential memo written to Cordray in July 2016 that outlined potential sanctions the bureau could take against the bank.

CFPB employees ultimately recommended a $100 million fine against Wells Fargo — representing the largest fine ever levied in the CFPB’s history at the time — to “sufficiently deter similar…

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