After reporting last month that Wells Fargo’s foreign-exchange unit was being investigated by regulators and that the bank had fired four employees – and demoted another – after discovering certain unspecified improprieties in its FX shop, more details about the exact nature of the bank’s latest scandal – which follows revelations that the bank’s retail division created millions of fake customer accounts, and its auto lending unit overcharged borrows – have finally been unearthed by the Wall Street Journal.
WSJ reports that the bank’s FX sales desk routinely gouged customers by charging them up to eight times as much as the industrywide standard. Furthermore, when confronted by clients about the high fees, traders and salespeople were encouraged to lie about the reasoning for them.
And once again, it appears Wells Fargo’s idiosyncratic incentives encouraged traders and salespeople on the bank’s foreign-exchange desk to take advantage of their clients’ ignorance and gouge them with exorbitant fees. Those who remember the cross-selling scandal that precipitated the resignation of CEO John Stumpf last year will recall that the 5,000 or so branch employees who were fired by the bank reportedly blamed management’s unrealistic quotas for their behavior.
Foreign-exchange employees got bonuses based solely on how much revenue they brought in, say more than a dozen current or former Wells Fargo employees. No other big bank in the U. S. calculated bonuses of currency traders in such a defined and individual way. Wells Fargo said Monday that it began making changes to those compensation plans earlier this year.
The bank also charged some of the highest trading fees around, according to current and former employees. For more than a decade, customers were sometimes charged anywhere from 1% to 4% on basic transactions such as converting euros to dollars and complicated trades like hedging.
Those percentages can be at least two to eight times higher than the industrywide average of 0.15% to 0.5%, depending on the trade, customer and volume, according to foreign-exchange bankers throughout the industry.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Nov 27, 2017.