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US mulls further Wells Fargo sanction over sales abuses: source
[WASHINGTON] The main regulator for Wells Fargo & Co is considering whether to sanction the US bank over improperly charging customers for car insurance and mortgage loans, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) has for weeks debated how to take action on the insurance and mortgage issues which came to light this summer, said the source.
And officials are considering whether to fault the bank for older consumer lending issues, said two sources familiar with the moves.
Wells Fargo earlier reached a US$190 million settlement with regulators a year ago after it said its branch staff had opened as many as 2.1 million accounts without customers' authorisation to meet internal sales target.
That estimate was hiked to potentially as many as 3.5 million in August after an expanded review.
The third-largest US bank had promised to erase unfair and deceptive practices, according to the sources, who declined to be named because the deliberations are private.
If the OCC determines that Wells Fargo has fallen short of that agreement, known as a 'Matter Requiring Attention', the bank could face punishment, they said.
Bryan Hubbard, an OCC spokesman, said the agency does not comment on supervisory matters. A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said the bank would not comment on regulatory matters.
A decision on whether or not to sanction Wells Fargo could take weeks.
OCC staff have recommended taking enforcement action, one source said. Keith Noreika, the acting OCC chief, could either endorse the staff position, reject it, or wait until Joseph Otting who has been appointed to lead the agency, takes office.
President Donald Trump tapped Otting, a former banker, but the Senate must first confirm the choice and lawmakers have not yet scheduled a vote.
The potential for further sanctions come as Wells Fargo Chief Executive Tim Sloan is expected to appear before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday to answer questions about a year-long scandal over the bank's sales practices.
Mr Sloan, appearing before the Senate for the first time as chief executive, is keen to reassure lawmakers that the San Francisco-based bank has moved on from the scandal.
But with the emergence of more recent problems in other products, including auto insurance and mortgages, he faces a tough task.
The problems around auto-insurance and mortgage products emerged publicly this year.
In late July, Wells Fargo said hundreds of thousands of customers were due a refund on auto insurance that they did not need.
A lawsuit in late August accused Wells Fargo of improperly charging thousands of customers nationwide to lock in interest rates when their mortgage applications were delayed.
The bank said in its most recent quarterly financial filing on Aug 4 that its 'rate lock' programme is the subject of an investigation by the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.