Banking

Sen. Warren takes her latest criticism about Wells Fargo to UNC and other NC schools

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is taking her criticism of Wells Fargo to four North Carolina universities.

The Massachusetts Democrat wrote the leaders of Fayetteville State University, Elon University, UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University this week to express concerns about “exorbitant” fees Wells Fargo charges college students who have accounts with the bank. The schools were among 31 across the U.S. that were sent the letters.

Warren, a frequent Wells Fargo critic, calls attention in the letters to a federal banking regulator’s report that found Wells had the highest average fee, $46.99, among 14 financial services companies. The report, by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, examined student use of college-sponsored accounts at 573 schools. Such accounts are typically linked to a student’s ID card.

Wells Fargo’s fee was 27 percent higher than that of second-highest University of Kentucky Federal Credit Union, which had an average of $37.

In a statement, Wells Fargo spokesman Jim Seitz noted that even before the release of the report, the bank had been pursuing customer-friendly actions to support students.

Warren, who has announced plans to run for president in 2020, said she was forwarding the report to the 31 leaders so they could reference it when their schools consider future agreements with banks.

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In a separate letter to Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan this week, Warren asked the bank to provide more information on the fees it charges students. She also said the report raised questions about whether Wells’ marketing agreements with colleges comply with federal regulations.

“Wells Fargo has a history of aggressively and sometimes illegally squeezing its customers to boost its profits, and this report illustrates that the bank is deploying similar tactics on America’s college campuses to target vulnerable students,” Warren wrote. “These high fees, which are an outlier within the industry, demonstrate conclusively that Wells Fargo does not belong on college campuses.”

A spokesman for Fayetteville State said the university declined to comment. An Elon spokesman said the school had just received the letter and was not ready to comment. Spokespeople for the other two universities did not immediately provide responses.

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Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts accused Mel Watt of failing to do enough to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure following the Great Recession. Watt, the nation’s top housing regulator, defended his choices. Steven Senne AP

Wells Fargo’s steps to help students include automatic zero-balance alerts and waiving monthly service fees on everyday checking accounts for primary owners 17 to 24 years old, Seitz said. The fee waivers had already been offered to students using college-sponsored cards, he said.

“We will continue to take additional steps to better serve our student customers and help them succeed financially,” Seitz said.

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It’s the latest attack by Warren on Wells Fargo, which is based in San Francisco but maintains its largest employment hub in Charlotte.

Warren, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, has repeatedly called for Wells Fargo to fire Sloan, who was promoted in 2016 to replace former CEO John Stumpf. Stumpf resigned amid fallout from a scandal over unauthorized customer accounts.

Since then, Wells Fargo has disclosed customer harm in other parts of the bank. The company has touted steps it’s taken to right itself.

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