Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Wells Fargo Story

I never quite understood the large antipathy toward banks immediately after the financial crisis. But after reading informative financial blogs, I gradually developed a greater understanding for the banks destruction of the American economy.

It was not until recently that I fully understood the full predatory nature of the major banks by having a direct experience with Wells Fargo and its relentless pursuit of fees with my account that I realized the lengths a bank will go to collect and keep fee income.

I established a brokerage account with Wells Fargo to take advantage of their free commission schedule. After needing to sell a bond, I transferred my entire account to Fidelity in order to sell the bond I no longer wanted to hold. Wells Fargo then began charging maintenance fees to my zero balance account month after month.

Having zeroed out my accounts, I was unconcerned with the charges as they were simply automatically-generated by WF's system. Banks routinely do this to zero-balance accounts and then reverse out the charges upon closure. However, WF had built up a $80 balance and felt it had sufficient need to forward the debit to collection.

This also did not concern me as I understood that this was likely an automatic process as well. It did surprise me that WF took such an aggressive approach, however, the bank had hit hard times and was in need of every dollar it could raise.

After a little over a year, I decided to re-open my brokerage account in order to buy a few stocks. In doing so, it was necessary for me to also establish WF's PMA checking account as WF informed me that the previous account had been closed. I asked if it could be re-opened and if any debit was owed for the account and was informed that a new account would need to be established as their was no record of the previous account.

I subsequently established the WF PMA and re-funded the account with more than $25,000 in bonds I intend to hold to maturity exempting me from maintenance fees as well as other charges assessed by the company. Previously, I had maintained a $50,000 balance which kept me exempt from fees. It was only after my accounts were closed that WF began assessing charges.

After a few weeks, the Wells Fargo collections department raided my account for the $80 the company had charged for services rendered to a zero-balance account.

I expected that a customer representative would easily agree to refund the charges since I had reopened and funded an account with the company. But it was not to be. Representatives are not empowered to refund such fees and two Wells Fargo supervisors also claimed an inability to credit for a fee and one declared that they knew of no one within Wells Fargo with such ability.

Having endured six transfers and spent more than 1 hour on the phone with clueless representatives, I elected to write a complaint letter to have the fees reversed. Surprisingly, Wells Fargo held fast. I wrote a second letter, this one addressed to the CEO. Again, Wells Fargo held fast to their position. I then filed a complaint with the OCC online and Wells Fargo still do not relent.

At this point, Wells Fargo had probably spent more money fighting the fee than they achieved by confiscating it. But their expenses were only beginning.

I then launched an e-mail attack on the company and went back and forth with its e-mail department with more than a dozen e-mails. In my e-mails I stated clearly that had declared a jihad on WF, and I would maintain my account solely as a method of costing the company as much as possible as a customer.

Fidelity and Vanguard estimate their expenses per customer contact at $21 per e-mail or telephone call. At this rate, Wells Fargo's costs would be around $400 to keep its $80 in raided funds.

Finally, I contacted the Executive Team and a representative did not disagree with any of my points but reinforced that Wells Fargo had written language into its agreement which allowed it to charge inactive accounts and offset other accounts when funds become available. As such, Wells Fargo would not be refunding the fee regardless of the cost it would incur in the future or the ill will it would create with a customer dedicated to doing damage to the company.

Two e-mails to CEO John Stumpf at john.g.stumpf@wellsfargo.com produced no response.

Having worked as a financial representative with Fidelity Investments for more than 10 years, I was amazed at Wells Fargo ability to withstand my assaults and incur significant cost and future risk. This was an issue Fidelity would have dealt with on the first phone call.

Unlike Wells Fargo, Fidelity empowers representatives to refund as much as $100 at their discretion in order to avoid such ill will and future financial risk. Each time Fidelity has attempted to become a bit more aggressive in leveling fees, it has suffered such backlash from customers that management quickly capitulated recognizing that the small increases in short-term revenue where simply not worth the long-term costs.

To date, I continue to hold my brokerage account with Wells Fargo recognizing that I am better able to cost Wells Fargo as an unprofitable customer dedicated to maximizing the company's expenses than to pay its $95 close out fee to transfer. I could get one of the brokerage companies I do business with to cover the costs, but do not wish to allow Wells Fargo to collect additional funds. I'd prefer to keep getting my free commissions at great cost to WF.

The moral to this story: If you have an account with Wells Fargo be prepared to do significant battle if a fee should be applied to your account. Once WF has its hands on your money, it does not let go even if it costs them more in the long term. If you don't have a Wells Fargo account, it is advisable that you stay away from the company as it is in a desperate condition.