Wells Fargo Should Focus on Its Actual Misbehavior, Not on Perceptions

And, as Gretchen Morgenson has reported, the bank also provided unauthorized auto insurance to 800,000 customers who had borrowed money from Wells Fargo to buy new cars; made unauthorized changes to mortgage repayments terms while customers were in bankruptcy, lengthening out by years the money they owed to the bank; and withheld different insurance refunds from some customers who had borrowed money to buy cars.

Ms. Morgenson also wondered whether John G. Stumpf, the bank’s former chief executive, had misled lawmakers when he testified before Congress last year. Some congressional leaders have called for new hearings to elicit testimony from Timothy J. Sloan, Mr. Stumpf’s successor as chief executive.

There is no question that Wells Fargo is now on high alert, wary of potential action by regulators and members of Congress. The growing concern seems to be showing up in other ways.

According to voicemails and emails sent recently to some Wells Fargo banking clients, one of whom shared them with me, a “new regulatory requirement” requires that before sending out invitations to a “Client Appreciation Event” in October, the bank must “pre-screen” its “invitees and their guests” to identify “any employment with government entities.”

In other words, the bank wanted to know, before inviting them to an event designed to thank them for being a client, who among its clients, and their guests, worked in local, state or federal government.

“I do apologize for the intrusion,” one Wells Fargo banker wrote to a client, “but it is required to receive an invitation to the event.” Needless to say, the client I spoke with who received the voicemail and email told me he had “no intention” of providing the information the bank had asked for “so we can attend a client dinner thrown by Wells.” (The person he was thinking of inviting to the dinner works for a municipal government.)

Naturally, I was curious as to why Wells Fargo would put its clients in the awkward position of revealing whether they or their guests were public employees when all that was at stake was a rubber chicken dinner — the kind of eventn that is common on Wall Street and among smaller banks and their customers. I would think a once-a-year dinner is a nice way of staying in touch, developing new business leads and saying “thank you” rather than another way of making your clients uncomfortable.

At first, Jennifer Dunn, Wells Fargo’s media contact in…

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