A dunce cap for Wells Fargo. Image source: iStock/Thinkstock.

Wells Fargo (WFC -0.39%) has done bad. Real bad.

The nation's third biggest bank by assets was fined $185 million last week for fraudulently opening 2 million deposit and credit card accounts for customers without customers' permission to do so. The fraud, perpetrated by 5% of the bank's branch-based employees, who've since been fired, cost Wells Fargo customers millions of dollars in illicit account, overdraft, and insufficient-funds fees.

(Click here for the full story behind Wells Fargo's major blunder.)

A mockery of Wells Fargo's "Vision and Values"

The broad-based nature and duration of the fraud makes a mockery of Wells Fargo's pledge to put its customers' interests first. "The reason we wake up in the morning is to help our customers succeed financially and to satisfy their financial needs, and the result is that we make money," reads the bank's vision and values. "It's never the other way around."

Obviously, we now know this isn't true, at least for a meaningful percentage of Wells Fargo's employees between the years 2011 and 2015, when the fraud was said to have occurred. In these instance, it most certainly was the "other way around."

There's also reason to believe that the culpability for the conduct reached into the executive ranks. In July, the head of Wells Fargo's community banking division, Carrie Tolstedt, announced her decision to retire -- not empty-handed, of course, as she departed with an estimated $125 million payday, reflecting, in Chairman and CEO John Stumpf's words, her service as a "standard-bearer" for the bank.

Wells Fargo didn't tie Tolstedt's retirement to this incident, but it's absurd to think it's a coincidence.

Some context is nevertheless in order

All of this being said, it's worth putting Wells Fargo's transgressions into context. Yes, this is among the most egregious frauds committed against customers of a major bank in recent memory, but it's far from the only one. In fact, if you add up all the fines that the nation's largest lenders have paid for things like this since the financial crisis, Wells Fargo looks pretty good.

According to an analysis by CNBC, Wells Fargo ranks fourth in terms of the combined value of fines it's paid since 2009, at $10.3 billion. That's a lot of money, to be sure, but it pales in comparison to Bank of America (BAC -0.52%), which tops the list at $77.1 billion. That's seven times the amount that Wells Fargo has paid.


Regulatory Fines Paid Since 2009

Bank of America

$77.1 billion

JPMorgan Chase

$40.1 billion


$18.4 billion

Wells Fargo

$10.3 billion

Source: CNBC, Misbehaving banks have now paid $204 billion in fines.

JPMorgan Chase (JPM -0.83%) and Citigroup (C -1.55%) also outrank Wells Fargo in this regard. JPMorgan Chase's tally comes out to just over $40.1 billion. Citigroup was at $18.4 billion.

Interpret this how you like, but to me it means that Wells Fargo, despite the magnitude of its malfeasance from 2011 to 2015, remains one of the best-run banks in the country. It seems almost quant writing that now, but assuming that no other shoes drop (namely Stumpf's departure), I don't think this should change one's investment thesis toward the bank's stock.