The Nestmann Group

Call me crass, but I wasn’t shocked to learn last week that Wells Fargo & Company (WFC) had agreed to pay a $575 million fine to settle claims by all 50 states related to bogus account openings and forcing unneeded insurance policies on consumers with auto loans. That’s on top of the $1 billion fine the bank paid federal regulators last April for the same conduct.

Paying hefty fines for its outrageous practices is nothing new for WFC. In September 2016, the shelled out $185 million in fines and penalties when regulators discovered it had opened at least 1.5 million sham accounts and applied for 565,000 credit cards without permission of the customers that held them. That same month, the bank paid $24 million to settle claims that it had illegally repossessed the cars of military service members. And in April 2017, WFC disbursed $108 million to settle claims that it had overcharged veterans to refinance loans.

Then last August, the bank was fined $2.1 billion for issuing “liar mortgages” it knew were based on falsified income information in the leadup to the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008.

Oh, and a few weeks ago, we learned that WFC had erroneously denied 870 mortgage modification requests, leading to more than 500 foreclosures. Some of the people affected by the glitch literally became homeless.

Will the bank be punished for its latest mistake? Sure, but it’s likely to be a mere slap on the wrist that will give it no incentive whatsoever to clean up its act. After all, WFC’s net income in 2017 came to $22.18 billion, and the indications are the bank’s income will be even higher for 2018. To WFC, the fines it pays for misconduct are simply a cost of doing...

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