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Auto loans are the latest headache for embattled Wells Fargo

Joe Mont | July 31, 2017

Still reeling from the discovery that employees were opening unauthorized accounts and credit cards, Wells Fargo has announced plans to resolve issues with its auto loan customers

On July 27, the bank revealed a plan to remediate auto loan customers of Wells Fargo Dealers Services “who may have been financially harmed due to issues related to auto Collateral Protection Insurance policies.”

Wells Fargo reviewed policies placed between 2012 and 2017 and identified approximately 570,000 customers who may have been affected and will receive refunds and other payments as compensation.

In total, approximately $64 million of cash remediation will be sent to customers in the coming months, along with $16 million of account adjustments, for a total of approximately $80 million in remediation.

Starting in August 2017, Wells Fargo says it “will proactively reach out to impacted customers with letters and refund checks,” the announcement says.

Customers’ auto loan contracts require them to maintain comprehensive and collision physical damage insurance on behalf of the lender throughout the term of the loan.

As permitted under those contracts, Wells Fargo said it would purchase CPI from a vendor on the customer’s behalf if there was no evidence—either from the customer or the insurance company—that the customer already had the required insurance.

CPI insurance protects against loss or damage to a vehicle serving as collateral to secure a loan and helps ensure that borrowers can pay for damages to a vehicle.

In response to customer concerns, Wells Fargo initiated a review of the CPI program and related third-party vendor practices. Based on the initial findings, the company discontinued its CPI program in September 2016. “Since then, the company has gone through a comprehensive review using independent consultants to ensure the remediation plan it develops addresses customers’ situations in a thorough and thoughtful way,” the bank says.

Wells Fargo’s review determined “that certain external vendor processes and internal controls were inadequate.” As a result, customers may have been charged premiums for CPI even if they were paying for their own vehicle insurance, as required, and in some cases the CPI premiums may have contributed to a default that led to their vehicle’s repossession.

Wells Fargo has already been providing CPI-related refunds to some customers and, beginning in August, will send letters and refund checks to customers who are due additional payments.

Approximately 490,000 customers had CPI placed for some or all of the time they had adequate vehicle insurance coverage of their own. Wells Fargo refunded the premium and interest for the duplicative coverage at the time the customer made it aware of their other insurance. These customers will receive additional refunds of certain fees and some additional interest. Refunds for this group total approximately $25 million.

In five states that have specific notification and disclosure requirements, approximately 60,000 customers did not receive complete disclosures from our vendor as required prior to CPI placement. In these cases, even if CPI was required, customers will receive a refund including premiums, fees and interest. Refunds for this group total approximately $39 million.

For approximately 20,000 customers, the additional costs of the CPI could have contributed to a default that resulted in the repossession of their vehicle. Those customers will receive additional payments as compensation for the loss of their vehicle. The payment amount will depend on each customer’s situation and also will include payment above and beyond the actual financial harm “as an expression of our regret for the situation,” the bank says. Refunds for this group total approximately $16 million.

For each of these categories, Wells Fargo will also work with the credit bureaus to correct customers’ credit records, if applicable.

Also as an outcome of this review, Wells Fargo has “taken additional steps to tighten oversight of third-party vendors in Dealer Services,” the announcement says. “This is consistent with a broader effort to strengthen how the Dealer Services business manages risk and serves customers, which has included other recently announced actions to centralize operational functions and provide more consistency for customers, tighten credit standards, and implement a new structure.”