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Divorcing Wells Fargo

September 1st, 2013

Mary Shaw

I first opened the checking and savings accounts, along with a safe deposit box, in the early 1980s, at Fidelity Bank. Then, through a series of mergers and buy-outs, it became First Fidelity, then First Union, and then Wachovia.

It was a good bank, with conveniently located branches and ATMs, friendly staff, and a reasonable fee structure. For three decades, it was my primary bank - where my paychecks were automatically deposited and from which most of my bills were automatically paid. It was all smooth and easy.

But then Wells Fargo bought Wachovia.

First, the rates went up. Now I had to maintain $1,500 in my checking account - rather than $1,000 - in order to avoid a monthly service charge. And my checking and savings accounts no longer entitled me to a 50% discount on my safe deposit box rental.

But I was attached to that bank account. I guess it was a sentimental kind of attachment, like when you're in an unhappy marriage but not yet emotionally ready to break away. So I ate the extra expense.

Then I started to read about Wells Fargo's role in the subprime mortgage crisis which contributed to the ongoing worldwide recession. In 2012 alone, Wells Fargo agreed to pay more than $180 million in settlements for its crimes, with further legal trouble pending:

• In July, it reached a $175-million settlement with the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly discriminating against minority mortgage borrowers and charging them higher interest rates.

• In August, it agreed to a $6.5-million settlement on SEC charges that it sold risky mortgage-backed securities.

• In October, it was hit with a federal lawsuit based on the Federal False Claims Act, alleging that Wells Fargo defrauded the FHA by engaging in "reckless" lending of FHA-backed loans and then leaving the agency to pick up the tab.

To add insult to injury, from 2008 to 2010 Wells Fargo received $17.9 in tax subsidies, paid for by you and me.

So I decided that I couldn't keep my money there any longer. Now that I had this knowledge about how Wells Fargo conducted its business, I no longer had an excuse. I finally moved my money to a local credit union, which has better rates, lower fees, and branches that are almost as convenient.

Wells Fargo didn't make it easy. When I visited a local branch to close my accounts, the customer service rep and her supervisor repeatedly pressured me to stay, even though I don't have much money. I refused to give in. I calmly and sweetly shared my reasons for leaving, and I hope that information gets passed up the ladder.

So now I have severed all personal connections to Wells Fargo, and it feels liberating. Kind of like my divorce - difficult but worth it.

-###-

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: mary@maryshawonline.com

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