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Wells Fargo Fined $1 Billion for Car Loan and Mortgage Malfeasance

By Motley Fool Staff – Updated Apr 26, 2018 at 6:56PM

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Remember back when this was the bank everyone loved? Yeah, it’s fading for us, too.

In this segment of the Motley Fool Money podcast, host Chris Hill is joined by Million Dollar Portfolio's Jason Moser, Hidden Gems Canada's David Kretzmann, and Total Income's Ron Gross to reflect on last week's business and economic news, and one of the big stories was that once-admired bank Wells Fargo (WFC -0.69%) was taking yet another mea culpa for yet more ways it was abusing its customers' trust.

Regulators will fine the bank a total of $1 billion for forcing more than half a million customers to buy unnecessary insurance policies for their car loans, and for charging borrowers extra to lock in mortgage rates. The fines are bad -- the PR issues are worse.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on April 20, 2018.

Chris Hill: Let's move on to Wells Fargo. Ron, look, $1 billion for Wells Fargo, I know they have the money, I know they can pay this fine. But I kind of think that the optics of this are actually the problem here for them.

Ron Gross: I think that's fair, and I think the optics have been bad for quite some time. The other big number is 570,000 clients that got car insurance but didn't need it. That's pretty bad. Buffett's obviously a big shareholder of Wells Fargo, and has been for quite some time, and he thinks about culture and leadership in very strong ways, and he's maintained his trust, to a certain extent, I think, in Wells Fargo. Obviously, the stock has taken a hit as a result, and I think it should have. As you mentioned, this billion dollars is not going to be any big deal. It's 0.4% of the company's market cap, so it can handle that. It's more about, A, as a consumer, do you want to be a client of Wells Fargo? And, as an investor, do you have a desire to be a shareholder? And I think in a lot of cases, the answer is no.

Jason Moser: Yeah, I think generally speaking, the answer is no. I think the one thing that Wells Fargo has really working in its favor, beyond leading the mortgage market, because it's very easy to own that mortgage and then offer all sorts of free banking services to go with it, it's just that once you get a banking relationship established, it's sticky. Nobody wants to take the time to get yourself out and then open another bank account, and make sure that all of your bills are being paid from the right place, it's a hassle. So, they will, I think, benefit from that. In probably five years from now, we'll look back and think, "Eh, it wasn't that big of a deal after all." But I tend to not like investing in companies that have to pay fines of this size. And honestly, this isn't the problem. This is just a symptom of what's been clearly a bad culture for a long time.

Hill: And it's not the first fine. The first time this happened, when the fake accounts story first broke, there was genuine surprise because of the reputation that the bank had. This is now no longer a surprise. This is now a pattern.

Gross: Yeah. And what's maybe even more important than the fine is, back in February, the Federal Reserve passed down a punishment that said, "Wells Fargo will not be allowed to be any bigger than it was at the end of last year until they prove that they have their act together." So, as an investor, you have to keep an eye on that. You now have a regulation that's constraining growth on purpose because of how you screwed up in the past. So, buyer beware.

Moser: Wells Fargo has been a tremendous-performing investment for Berkshire Hathaway for a long, long time. I will be interested to see, in the coming years, as Warren and Charlie ride off into the sunset, if that status doesn't change at one point or another, and they decide to maybe take those gains and move elsewhere.

Hill: Well, hopefully we're going to have Becky Quick from CNBC on the show next week as our guest in advance of the Berkshire Hathaway meeting. I'm assuming that there are going to be more than a couple of questions that come up at that annual meeting about Wells Fargo.

Chris Hill has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. David Kretzmann owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). Jason Moser owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). Ron Gross owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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