Wells Fargo Did Not Have More Consumer Complaints, Report Says

The bank at the center of a major scandal doesn't appear to be an outlier.

ByABC News
September 28, 2016, 10:19 PM

— -- When it comes to consumer complaints about account management and credit cards, Wells Fargo doesn’t at first appear to be much worse than other big banks, despite being the subject of a scandal over the unauthorized opening of accounts.

What the bank does have is a higher number of complaints by amount of credit card loans.

Consumer complaints do not equate to illegal or even improper activity, but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) uses them as a source of information to determine where they may need to investigate banks further.

Banks other than Wells Fargo appeared to receive a comparable -- and in some cases greater -- number of complaints from consumers, according to a report from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The report analyzed a database of complaints maintained by the CFPB, which is one of three regulatory agencies which fined Wells Fargo $185 million earlier this month, while alleging that bank "employees opened more than two million deposit and credit card accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers."

The report found that between Jan. 1, 2015 and Sept. 20, 2016, the CFPB received 1,576 complaints regarding "Account opening, closing or management" at Wells Fargo.

By comparison, Citigroup was the subject of 1,722 complaints of the same type; 1,409 were filed by consumers against JPMorgan Chase & Co; and consumers filed 2,119 against Bank of America.

Looking at it a different way, about 1.26 of these complaints were filed for every billion dollars deposited with the company, based on deposit data collected by S&P on June 30th.

This falls right in the middle of four major banks: Citigroup had a ratio of complaints of 1.84 per billion dollars and Bank of America had a rate of 1.74. JPMorgan Chase & Co. was lower at 1.06 complaints per billion deposited.

The report also looked at complaints regarding unsolicited credit cards that were issued, which was the core of the allegations made against Wells Fargo earlier this month.

Interestingly, Wells Fargo generated the lowest number of these complaints among the four comparable banks -- just 28 between Jan. 1, 2015 and Sept. 20, 2016.

Meanwhile, Citi spurred 83, JPMorgan Chase caused 59 complaints to be filed and Bank of America generated 31.

While Wells Fargo’s number initially appears to be the lowest among the four, when looked at in relation to the amount of credit card loans it makes, it is actually generating more complaints than the other three banks.

It is important to note that these are only consumer complaints and the CFPB has not verified the claims are true.

"We don’t verify all the facts alleged in these complaints," the CFPB states on its website, "but we take steps to confirm a commercial relationship between the consumer and the company."

And while any allegations in the complaints are unproven, the CFPB has said that it can use them as leads to pursue investigations.

"Consumer complaints are the CFPB’s compass and play a central role in everything we do. They help us identify and prioritize problems for potential action," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in July 2015.

A spokeswoman for Citi said, "We regularly review our policies and practices to make sure colleagues only offer appropriate solutions to clients that deliver value and transparency ... With regard to the 'account opening, closing or management' category, from the creation of the database in 2012 through 2015, Citi is again amongst the lowest compared to peers. In fact, many of the 2016 complaints pertain to promotional offers for which some customers were not eligible."

The Citi spokeswoman also said that in the credit card category, when considering the "the total number of credit card accounts-in-force for each issuer ... Citi's complaint volume would be among the lowest in the industry." She added that 18 of the 52 complaints mentioned in the S&P report were due to a misunderstanding around a promotional credit card.

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said, "We take customer complaints we receive through any channel, including the CFPB database, very seriously."

A spokesperson for JPMorgan Chase & Co. did not immediately return ABC News' requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Bank of America declined to comment.

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