Happy birthday, Wells Fargo: older but wiser?

Happy birthday, Wells Fargo: older but wiser?

Protesters around the country came out Monday to wish Wells Fargo a happy 160th birthday, and to remind the San Francisco bank that getting older doesn't mean they're getting any wiser.

“We went out there to let them know that we are going to bring attention to the fact that Wells Fargo still does not work with home owners whose homes are being foreclosed on,” said Diane Limas, a volunteer organizer with the Albany Park Neighborhood Council.

The 40-strong Chicago group brought balloons, clowns and a cake – with a large portion cut out for the 1 percent and a small portion for the 99 percent – to a Wells Fargo branch on Chicago’s North Side. The lender has eight branches in Chicago out of about two dozen in Illinois.

Though Wells Fargo is now the most valuable U.S. lender by market capitalization, and is working its way out of the hole caused by the recession, it still has a number issues to deal with stemming from alleged mortgage abuses during the financial crisis.

A major hurdle was passed last month, when Wells Fargo and four other mortgage providers reached a long-awaited $25 billion settlement meant to provide some reparation for the harder hit homeowners.

The banks, which also included heavyweights Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, and Ally, were accused of robo-signing mortgages and other foreclosure abuses. But they remain open to the potential of other charges, and not everyone who was wronged will get reparations.

Wells Fargo will start paying the first installments of its $5.3 billion share of the settlement this month.

That's just the start. Only days before its birthday week, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Chicago homeowner could sue the mortgage provider for refusing to permanently modify her mortgage terms on the basis of breach of contract and fraud.

That's on top of an ongoing lawsuit against Wells Fargo by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who, using materials from a Chicago Reporter investigation, is alleging that the bank engaged in discriminatory lending practices.

There's more.

According  to Matt Stoller, at The Roosevelt Institute, a March 2012 report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development shows that the mortgage provider may have been continuing the practice of robo-signing mortgage documents even as it was under investigation in October 2010.

At the time of our review, affidavits continued to be processed by these same signers, who may not have been qualified. And these signers may not have adequately verified certain figures because they accessed a computer screen of data showing a compilation of figures instead of verifying the data against the information through review of the books and records kept in the regular course of business by the institution.

The housing department's audit doesn't speculate about whether this is still going on now.

All these problems, though, haven't seem to hurt Wells Fargo financially. The company's stock has jumped 330% from the depths it reached in March 2009. Profit is up 30% from 2009 to $15.9 billion last year.

And with many banks cutting their exposure to the housing market, Wells Fargo is now the nation's largest mortgage servicer and lender.

But those sorts of numbers aren't likely to impress many of the people who showed up in mock celebration.

“We want Wells Fargo to do the right thing. Let’s keep families in their homes so that next time this year we’ll all have something to celebrate,” said Limas.

What do you think: has Wells Fargo gotten any wiser with age?

© Community Renewal Society 2012

Photo credit: Stand Up! Chicago

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