Today, the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing entitled Wells Fargo: One Year Later, where Wells Fargo CEO and President Timothy Sloan will be questioned about the bank’s opening of nearly 3.5 million fraudulent accounts in customers’ names.
Because Wells Fargo uses mandatory arbitration clauses in its take-it-or-leave-it contracts, customers are forced to resolve any disputes with the bank in a private arbitration system where the bank chooses the arbitrator. In a new brief, EPI Policy Director Heidi Shierholz explains why banks like Wells Fargo continue to use forced arbitration in disputes with customers: the average customer in arbitration with Wells Fargo is ordered to pay the bank nearly $11,000.
Shierholz builds on a recent report that found that just 250 consumers arbitrated claims with Wells Fargo between 2009 and the first half of 2017. Given the scale of the fraudulent account scandal, Shierholz argues, one would expect to see the volume of arbitration claims increase. The fact that so few consumers entered arbitration against Wells Fargo is clear that it is an ineffective means of providing consumers relief when they are harmed by a financial institution.
“It’s no surprise that so few Wells Fargo customers have entered arbitration with the bank, despite the fact that so many people were victims of its fraudulent practices,” said Shierholz. “Forced arbitration is a poor substitute for the court system. Consumers lose the vast majority of claims, and pay a very high price when they do.”
Shierholz finds that Wells Fargo won significantly more money in arbitration between 2009 and the first half of 2017 than it paid out to consumers, despite creating 3.5 million fraudulent accounts during that same period. Indeed, forced arbitration seems to be especially lucrative for Wells Fargo. A previous report by Shierholz found that consumers are ordered to pay their bank or lender $7,725 on average, across financial institutions, but the average Wells Fargo customer is ordered to pay the bank $10,826 in arbitration.
In July 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a final rule to making it harder for financial institutions to use arbitration clauses in consumer contracts to limit people’s ability to seek damages through class action lawsuits. Shierholz’s report also debunks erroneous claims from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency last week that the rule may raise consumer costs, as the Senate considers legislation to repeal it.