Wells Fargo All About Serving Customers? Not So Much, Mr. Stumpf.

“People are surprised when I say this: Our number-one goal when we get up in the morning is not about making money. It’s about serving customers.”
~John Stumpf, Wells Fargo

If you’ve done business with Wells Fargo in the past 10 years or so – especially if you’ve had a mortgage or other loan “serviced” by WF – you know what a huge line of BS John Stumpf is feeding CNBC’s infotainment “investment analyst” Jim Cramer in this clip.

The former Wall Street hedge fund manager has to be particularly blind and deaf if he believes that Wells Fargo hasn’t taken part in the same list of ethically-reprehensible activities designed to defraud customers and make money for the bank: robosigning, forging foreclosure documents, predatory mortgage lending in minority communities, manipulating debit card transaction to generate overdrafts, and forcing mortgage borrowers into price-gouging home insurance.

The company even gets complaints for its handling of student loans and paid to settle a lawsuit regarding its debt-collection processes by harassing consumers, who are generally protected by specific debt-collection law. How Cramer can appear to be such a cheerleader for Stumpf & Co. in light of all this is beyond me, but he certainly seems to take everything the CEO says as absolute truth.

Certainly Stumpf wasn’t being entirely truthful when he told Cramer that the good and noble Wells Fargo wasn’t making all those dubious “liar loans” like other mortgage banks. Apparently they lost so much money resisting the temptation to create all sorts of mortgages people were unlikely to ever pay back that when the economy went bust they could buy out another bank of roughly equal size. Hmmm.

“So there was times between 2000 and 2008 where other mortgage lenders,
as an example, were making loans with nothing down, no verification – the so-called liar loans. And we didn’t participate in most of that.
So we gave up billions of originations, hundreds of millions of profibut then when everything came apart, we were able to use out capital to buy out Wachovia.”
~John Stumpf, Wells Fargo

wellsubprimeActual facts fail to support the image of Stumpf on a white steed, riding above the greed-fest that was the mortgage business in the years before the crash. Statistics compiled by the Center for Responsible Lending in a 2004 report show subprime lending going gangbusters at Wells Fargo by 2003. Between 2005 and 2007, the bank made the subprime producers’ top 10 list.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau certainly knows Wells Fargo is no angel when it comes to treatment of customers. Its September monthly complaint reports places WF in the top three banks consumers across the country have issues with regarding both mortgages and the top two regarding debt collection.

And here’s a list of consumer complaint websites, where you can pretty much plug in “Wells Fargo” with whatever topic you like to find people the bank has jerked around.

So, pretty sure that Stumpf the Sanctimonious and his faithful sidekick Cramer the Credulous are telling a blatantly fictional tale about the all-powerful but beautifully benevolant Wells Fargo Bank. Do yourself a big favor and don’t listen to either one of these guys. And, by all means, do not do business with or invest in this lying, cheating bank.

Wells Fargo Executives Embarrassed by Employee Incompetence?

Poor Wells Fargo. It must be really distressing to CEO John Stumpf that his mortgage division is being called on the carpet yet again.

Big Banks’ Mortgage Units — Still Failing Customers — Face New Restrictions
On Wednesday, the OCC announced that six banks that manage home loans — EverBank, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Santander Bank, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo — haven’t implemented all the reforms they promised to make as part of the 2011 deals.

As punishment, the regulator has imposed new restrictions on the banks’ mortgage departments, limiting their ability to acquire residential servicing rights in some circumstances, and forcing them to seek OCC approval before hiring senior officers in their mortgage servicing and compliance departments.

The restrictions vary, with Wells Fargo and HSBC strictly prohibited from certain types of new business acquisition, while the other banks must first seek OCC approval.

Let’s face it, things must be very obviously bad if the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has finally taken its head out of the sand and noticed something was wrong with the way Wells and the other big financial institutions deal with consumer requests for mortgage loan modifications in the wake of a past “enforcement action” and a so-called punitive settlement that set servicing guidelines for the banks.

One of the many issues cited when the OCC sanctioned Wells and others last week was the ongoing inability of the bank to assign each loan mod review to a single, knowledgeable employee tasked with, among other things, keeping the consumer informed throughout the process.

Wells Fargo, the OCC said in a new consent order, “continues to engage in unsafe and unsound practices.” Among the bank’s points of “noncompliance,” the regulator said in regulator-speak, is its failure to ensure “effective communication with borrowers, both oral and written.”

According to the OCC, Wells Fargo still has yet to ensure that each borrower is matched with a single customer service representative at the bank to handle their modification request or foreclosure — a basic first step to ending the cycle of confusion, lost paperwork and endless hours on the phone that many homeowners have endured while speaking with a succession of uninformed bank employees.

Mike Heid, the president of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, said in a statement that the bank has “implemented significant changes to our mortgage servicing operations and achieved compliance with major elements of the original Consent Order.”

I would imagine Stumpf and Heid must just be beside themselves with shame and distress because none of the many hundreds of company executives is intelligent enough to set up a system to assign cases to the employees trained and empowered to manage them. You’d think the nation’s largest mortgage bank and second-largest mortgage servicer could afford to hire somebody to help with that.

How embarrassing for Heid and other WFHM executives who have been telling no less an auspicious audience than the U.S. Congress since April 2010 that the company is diligently working on creating what has become known as a “single point of contact” system. How distressing that the no-doubt earnest testimony of those well-paid men was made into lies by the base incompetence of those idiot employees who, after years and years of being paid salaries still can’t manage to create a database and develop a protocol for working with consumers.

More than five years later, they have to hang their heads in shame that they can’t manage to do what countless private and government organizations do every day – assign clients, patients, students, etc., to a contact person they can count on to help them through a bureaucratic process.

Back when I worked in a tiny academic advising office at a small university, we somehow managed to create and administer a system that could divvy up the students among trained advisors, maintain an electronic database to record  every communication we had with those students, and track their academic progress and choice of major. Little did I know back then that we lowly functionaries were geniuses compared to the high-dollar executives at the nation’s fourth-largest bank.

While I was trying to work with Wells Fargo to restructure my loan, I experienced the terrible incompetence of its system firsthand. Over two and a half years, I was assigned no fewer than 17 people who were supposed to help get my case reviewed. Oddly enough, most of them weren’t very helpful at all. Some of them even seemed to completely lack such basic skills as how to read a bank statement, how to add simple numbers and how to return phone calls.

One wonders how the very same company has managed to keep the paperwork straight and organize all the steps required to facilitate the hundreds of thousands of foreclosures it has committed over the past few years. Of course, we now know there was a special manual created to help Wells Fargo employees fabricate the reams of documents necessary to achieve this profitable outcome.

Perhaps Stumpf and Heid could hire the same people who wrote the Foreclosure Manual to create a Loan Mod Manual. Wouldn’t that be helpful? I wonder why none of their expensive executives thought of that?

What’s Up With Stumpf?

Holy facelift, Batman! What’s up with Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf’s face?

No, the burning question of the day about Wells Fargo isn’t what lawsuit has the company settled for mega-bucks (without any admission of guilt, of course) or how many families did its Home Mortgage division foreclose on to date.

I’m wondering whether the bank exec bought himself a facelift with some of the millions he makes overseeing a company that has tormented, cheated and lied to tens of thousands of homeowners? Or did some artist get a little crazy with PhotoShop?

I happened across the scary stretched Stumpf pic in an editorial posted in the Fall 2012 issue of the online LATINO magazine.com, where he was writing about how much Wells Fargo values diversity. (This in the wake of a $400+ million settlement in a lawsuit alleging the bank routinely steered minority borrowers into more expensive sub-prime mortgage loans.)

There’s no photo credit and it’s not the same pic that’s used on Stumpf’s bio page on the Wells Fargo website, though that one also looks pretty different from the hopefully unedited news pics available online.

In contrast, here he is earlier in 2012 on the cover of the February  issue of Forbes, illustrating a rather nauseating puff piece all about how wonderful and clever and honest Wells Fargo is compared to all those other big banks.

And this is how he appeared in a 2011 Fortune piece all about how to fix the mortgage crisis – ultimately how to ensure the banks keep making billions on home loans.

Here’s Stumpf in a Bloomberg/Businessweek article “The 50 Most Powerful People in U.S. Real Estate 2010” published in March of that year.

And here’s a 2009 San Francisco Business Times article on California’s financial woes.

Looks like the bank exec is getting younger every year. What is he, a modern Dorian Gray? Does his face stay young and smooth whilst he has hidden away somewhere a hideous portrait disfigured by the ravages of all the damage he and his company perpetrate? Yikes! Imagine what such a picture would look like post 2008 financial bust.

Mortgage Servicers’ “Customer Disservice” is Intentional

Following is an excerpt from my most recent letter to my state attorney general’s staff. Ever since I filed a complaint related to the way my mortgage servicer strung me along after I requested my mortgage loan be reviewed for modification, personnel from the Office of the President of Wells Fargo have been telling tall tales about all the reasons it was my fault the review took seven months.

The more these people from the president’s office say about their internal systems, the more confused I become about whether there is even meant to be any sort of rational system. It’s not as if this is rocket science. Handling large numbers of documents in an efficient and effective way isn’t fun work, but it is very ordinary work for large corporations like Wells Fargo, which probably employs at least a few people specifically trained and tasked to create, implement and monitor such systems. And it’s not as if mortgage modification was an entirely new concept. As long as there have been loans, there have been circumstances causing some borrowers to need to modify terms.

By the time I first requested a mortgage modification, the company was well into HAMP. So if there was intended to be a system for efficiently processing loan modification requests, I would have expected it to be up and running by then.

I have come to believe the disjointed, highly unprofessional brand of feigned incompetence that Wells Fargo and the other large loan servicers seem to have in common IS the system. I believe the banks fully intend to string people along, to play on their hopes and fears, to wring every last dime out of the borrowers and the investors and then foreclose. That explains very neatly why homeowners seem to have the same types of experiences with all the big servicers – the stories of “lost” documents, phone queue mazes, endless trial mods, two-track systems with foreclosure winning out over promised modifications are too much the same to be mere coincidence.

Why else would it be so difficult even to figure out what paperwork the servicer/investor requires, in what format and submitted when? That’s just a simple checklist that should be part of each loan servicer’s website, updated as needed using information directly from servicers, investors and anyone else overseeing the various programs. If your loan is owned by investor A and serviced by bank E, here are the documents you need to submit, here is the timeline your review will follow, here are the standards that must be met and here’s an actual human being you can call if you have any questions. Not. Rocket. Science.

Yet, WFHM can’t even get straight how often it requires borrowers to update income documentation to keep their loan mod reviews moving forward. From April 2010 to January 2011, I got 11 different answers to that seemingly simple question. (See Lie #14.) Were all 11 of those people just coincidentally incompetent? No. They were doing what their superiors, what Wells Fargo executives, told them to do.

Intentional “incompetence” explains why WFHM’s customer-service queue representatives are forbidden to either transfer a borrowers’ call to anyone else in the organization or to provide the borrower with any direct contact information for the people who are reviewing their loans. They can only log your question or request to be contacted into the electronic notes system, where it might be seen the next time someone refers to the notes and you might get contacted by someone who can and/or will answer your question. Or not. That kind of inefficiency in a mom-and-pop operation might just be believable. But for a multi-billion-dollar global corporation to operate that way in this age of information and technology absolutely is not believable, unless the inefficiency is built into the system intentionally.

Inefficiency and obfuscation by design explains why written communication from Wells Fargo has no signature or even a printed name of someone the customer can contact for further information. And why letters from WFHM generally provide no return address that is connected with a real human being and only a generic customer-service queue phone number.

None of this represents standard business practice as I was taught and practiced in several industries – publishing, insurance, finance, higher education. This is the new brand of “customer disservice” that seems to be endemic to big corporations.

None of this is an accident. Masses of fraudulent foreclosure paperwork manufactured by robo-signers isn’t a “technicality” or a “clerical error.” The banks weren’t “overwhelmed” by an unexpected number of homeowners seeking mortgage help. They knew exactly how many sub-prime mortgages they had on their books and they knew exactly how many borrowers whose loans they services were either slow- or late-pay customers. That’s just P.R. hacks trying to spin these systems banks implemented to intentionally derail HAMP and other programs that, at least on the surface, appeared to be aimed at helping average people adversely affected by the economic crisis those very same banks caused.

It’s the same insidious spin tactic that sticks the label “deadbeat” on people who jump through hoops for months to qualify for and then meet all the terms of trial modifications and then expect the permanent modifications they earned. The bank shills also chide those people who go to court to demand the banks abide by foreclosure laws and prove they have legal right to foreclose for just “trying to get a free house.”

Update 3/2012: HUD IG Report Released With Settlement Details Servicer Abuse Directed From the Top
Like I said. The BS the banks are putting borrowers through is an intentional, institutional strategy put in place by the top executives. Not just “paperwork errors” and “mistakes by low-level employees.”

The “Too Big To Fail” Myth

The year 2011 has certainly started out interesting, with longstanding, repressive governments toppled in Tunisia and Egypt and calls for freedom from tyranny spreading across the Arab world. The courage and fortitude of those ordinary people is amazing and their success an inspiration to everyone in the world who is fights for what is right.

I can’t help but wonder what’s going through the minds of this country’s big bank execs when they watch the news from Libya, Egypt and other countries whose citizens are standing up against their repressive rulers. Do they gleefully see dollar signs, imagining new markets opening for U.S. goods and financial services? Or do they, perhaps, feel a little chill of foreboding?

You see, these men (yes, the heads of the big four are all male) have been living in the imaginary world of “too big to fail,” a mythical place where no matter what they do to their customers, they get to keep raking in billions for their corporations and putting millions in their own pockets. Aided and abetted by our political leaders, judiciary, law enforcement and regulatory agencies, they’ve been insulated in this bubble long enough that I think they’ve come to believe that both they personally and the institutions they manage are untouchable, beyond the reach of inconvenient ethical and moral concerns or even of the rule of law.

“Might is Right” might be their collective motto (along with “Mine, mine … all mine!”).

Too bad saying so doesn’t make it so, boys – as some men who have wielded far greater power for much longer have been finding out in recent weeks. Egypt’s President Mubarak had been in power since 1981and Tunisia’s President Ben Ali since 1987. They’re history now. The embattled Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has held his post for 32 years. And Libya’s Gadhafi, who as of this writing is presumed to have fled his country as his military and tribal allies desert him in the wake of public outcry, has ruled for more than 40 years.

Compared to those heavy-hitters, let’s consider the leaders of the big four U.S. banks:

  • Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan has only been at the helm since the end of 2009.
  • Citibank’s Indian-born leader Vikram Pandit took over that company in 2007.
  • Wells Fargo’s top executive, John Stumpf, was named president/CEO in August 2005.
  • Chase’s Jamie Dimon, the longest-serving top executive in the group, has been in his post only since mid-2004.

Too rich, too ruthless, too corrupt, too well-supported by the U.S. goverment to be shown the door, gracefully or otherwise? I don’t think so. These are the guys who have decided it’s okay to fake foreclosure documents to steal people’s homes, jack up credit-card interest and service fees for no reason and generally treat us, the customers, like they own us. But we don’t have to take it.

The reality is, we the people of the United States could put the big four banks out of business by noon tomorrow. Pretty easily. With none of the risk faced by the people of Tunisia and Egypt and Libya and Yemen.

How? Just go to the nearest branch of your “too big to fail” bank tomorrow morning and close your account. Take your money to a local or regional bank or credit union. You’ll get all the same services – a free checking account, a savings account, credit cards, debit cards, auto and home loans and more – with fewer and lower fees. And, you’ll keep your money at work in your own community. What a simple way to fight for right.

And good wishes to the people of Bahrain, Yemen and Libya as they seek regime change and the people of Tunisia and Egypt as they plan new futures for their countries.

Who’s Going to Protect AZ From the Banksters Now?

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, Arizona residents fighting to keep their homes can pretend Terry Goddard is still our Attorney General. We can bask in the certainty that our state’s top law enforecement official actually cares about bank-perpetrated fraud in both foreclosures and mortgage modifications.

Goddard, who was tragically defeated in his bid to unseat our sorry excuse for a governor, was a force to be reckoned with when it came to this issue. He was on the executive committee of the National Association of Attorneys General and part of the 50-state investigation into foreclosure fraud related to document “robosigning.”

In December, just before he left office, Goddard filed a lawsuit against Bank of America triggered by hundreds of consumer complaints and resulting from a year-long investigation into Bank of America’s residential mortgage servicing practices, particularly its loan modification and foreclosure practices.

Unfortunately, despite the “evidence” of the cached web page, Goddard is gone. The new guy seems to be focused on harassing a bunch of high school students and teachers in Tucson for daring to learn about ethnic differences in our society.

Yep, that’s the only thing on his website’s “Issues” page.

Per his campaign promises, he’s also vehemently defending what I have come to think of as the “bigots’ law” – SB 1070.  And, apparently, pursing with great zeal a nonsensical fight to make health care harder to get, even more expensive and generally less available to the residents of his state.

I’m fairly certain there are a whole bunch of other problems to be solved in this state just now, and up to several of them could use a little attention from the top legal official. Too bad the foreclosure crisis doesn’t seem to be on his radar screen. In fact, there is speculation that he’ll withdraw the state from that lawsuit against Bank of America.

Maybe if the bank executives had dark hair, dark eyes and darker-than-beachfront-vacation-tanned skin? Maybe that would draw the ire of our new chief legal officer. Hmmm … wonder what it would take to convince Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf to color his hair black and get a spray-on tan?

What Kind of Organization Keeps Contact Info. Secret?

When did it become common practice for companies to refuse to provide contact information to clients, prospective clients or just about anyone who asks for it? I guess I didn’t get that memo. What’s the big secret?

In my professional experience, when someone calls (or, these days, emails) a company asking for contact information either for the company in general or for a specific person or department, the common practice is to provide that information. Simple. No-brainer.

I have no idea how many times in many different jobs I called to ask for a mailing address, a physical address, the formal title of a person I had previously talked to, the name of a person in a specific position or the name of the best person to contact regarding a specific issue or piece of information. I can’t recall a single instance when the person I spoke to, generally a polite and efficient receptionist, failed to simply provide the requested information. Basic, every-day business practice.

I have also been that person answering the phone and providing whatever information was requested. In the old days (and probably still at small companies) there was always some kind of paper list near the phone with names, titles and phone extensions. Now, technology makes possible a web-based, searchable database so employees at even the largest corporations can easily locate and contact any person, department or division.

So why is it that I have spent hours and hours trying to locate contact information at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and Freddie Mac? Why does it seem like they are loathe to provide names, phone numbers or addresses where their clients can contact the people who can answer their questions and provide basic services?

During the past seven months dealing with WFHM, I have been shuffled along among eight different people who in some way or another were supposed to be my permanent contact through the end of my mortgage modification review. (That’s after just having to speak to random customer-service people for nearly three months.) The problem is, many of the people who have passed me along to someone else have failed/refused to provide me with a way to directly get in touch with the next person in line.

In one instance, it took 14 phone calls over 12 days before I got to speak to the person who was supposed to help complete my modification review.

And all this time, the customer-service queue people at Wells Fargo generally claimed not to have access to the contact information for all those people who were supposed to be committed to helping their customers (me!) avoid foreclosure. Seriously?! I’m supposed to believe that a big, modern company like Wells Fargo doesn’t have any way for employees to get in contact with each other or to put clients in touch with the departments and personnel providing the services they need? I did finally get one rep. to confirm for me that, of course, Wells Fargo did have a company directory and that, of course, she did have access to it. She just wasn’t allowed to give me the phone number of the person I was supposed to be dealing with. I would just have to wait until that person got around to contacting me.

What?!! Don’t call us; we’ll call you? While the clock is ticking and I’m sliding down the slope into default?

Now I’m having the same trouble with Freddie Mac, the actual owner of my mortgage loan. I emailed borrower_outreach@freddiemac.com to ask for the name and mailing address of the person in charge of servicer compliance for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). First, they ignored me. I kept emailing. Then I got a message not to email that address anymore because they needed to “escalate this case to a higher department here at Freddie Mac to research.” Research?! I asked for a name and mailing address. What is there to research?

I emailed the new address I was given, FreddieMacBorrowerHelp@freddiemac.com, and again politely requested the name and mailing address. After sending that two more times, I got the following:
As the compliance administrator for Making Home Affordable, we do have an email address you can use to register perceived violations to the MHA program; however, we would also like the opportunity to explore your concern before the complaint is registered.

If you would like to register an alleged violation, please report it to mha_compliance@mhacompliance.com. Please note that the purpose of this email address is for consumers to voice their concerns. The email address is not a communication tool, so you will not receive any response back or follow-up to your registered complaint.

So, in other words, they won’t read what you write and they won’t take any action, but if you want to waste your time sending the email, go right ahead?!

I’m asking for a name and address! If I had wanted to submit my complaint via email, I would have done that to the first address I had. I emailed back and said, first, that there are way too many pages for it to be practical to email. And second, that I preferred to send it via regular mail so I would have delivery confirmation as it is my experience that agencies involved in mortgage lending have an unfortunate tendency to misplace paperwork.

Why the secrecy? I can only think of two types of organizations that need to closely guard the identities and whereabouts of their employees. The first are international spy rings, the likes of which are described in the works of authors like Robert Ludlum and John LeCarré. I believe the idea there is that no-one knows the identities of many other agents so if one person is captured and tortured by the enemy he can’t compromise the others.

The other type of entity I can think of that thrives on such secrecy is criminal organizations. Controlling the flow of information and contact between “employees” means if someone gets arrested, he can’t give away crucial details about “business” deals or point the finger at many of his fellow criminals.

I can’t say I buy Wells Fargo as a front for an international spy operation or imagine CEO John Stumpf running agents, setting up information drops or donning disguises to infiltrate terrorist cells.

I have to say it’s much easier for me to imagine Wells and the other big corporations financial services industry as elements of a global crime syndicate.

How about you. Do you see John Stumpf as a cloak-and-dagger spymaster? Or the godfather of his corporate “family?”

Where’s the Loyalty, Corporate America?

Whatever happened to corporate loyalty? You know, that concept that companies work hard to keep clients happy because it’s so much more efficient to retain customers than to attract and land new ones.

In the not-so-distant past, it was fiscally more desirable for companies to actually provide service and give a #$*% whether their clients were happy. If you had been a loyal customer for many years, you earned some perks – you got some loyalty back. Now it seems like the only people who even get anything resembling competent, professional treatment from many corporations are those with mega-bucks.

Talked to a relative recently who has been paying premiums to the same insurance company for 20 years and has never had a single claim, never gotten so much as a dime of his own money back from the company. Now he needs the insurance and, you guessed it, the company is trying to weasel out of paying his claim. What is up with that?!

And what do the big banks think will happen to their “prospect” pool after they foreclose on millions of their customers (and the rest of us read about fraud and lies and even breaking-and-entering). Do the executives at Wells Fargo and Bank of America and Chase really think all those people will go on doing business with them?

Or, like me, will those millions move their money to local banks and credit unions. And advise their children and co-workers and even total strangers with whom they strike up random conversations to NEVER, EVER do business with a big bank?

How many children are there in this country right now whose first up-close-and-personal experience with a bank has been to have his home taken away from him. To know that his parents tried and tried to get help from the bank and all they got was the run-around and a bunch of lies and then the family was booted out of its home. Will those kids ever trust their future wealth to Wells Fargo? To B of A? Why would they?

Is it so cheap and easy to attract new customers these days that corporations don’t have to consider the marketing cost per new customer anymore? Is client retention so unimportant that it’s only mentioned in the puffed-up PR copy on websites and in annual reports?

I just don’t see how that can be a sustainable business model. I think John Stumpf and the rest of the big bank executives are doing the fiscal equivalent of shooting themselves in the foot when they make decisions based on the next year’s bloated bonus instead of the long-term viability of the organizations they steward.

What do you think?