Wells Fargo on Thursday said it had potentially opened an additional 1.4 million sham accounts customers didn’t want, 67 percent more than it initially estimated, escalating an already contentious battle over the future of the mega bank.
The bank revised the total, now up to 3.5 million, after discovering that employees may have been opening unauthorized credit card and bank accounts for customers for far longer than originally acknowledged. The eye-popping figure will likely hamper the bank’s efforts to move beyond the nearly year-long scandal as lawmakers and regulators delve deeper into its inner workings and demand changes.
The revision also comes amid a simmering debate over whether Wall Street has learned from its mistakes during the 2008 financial crisis and should have it regulatory reins loosened. Republicans in Congress who support such relief have acknowledged that Wells Fargo’s repeated stumbles could make that effort more difficult.
“We apologize to everyone who was harmed by unacceptable sales practices,” Wells Fargo chief executive Timothy J. Sloan said. “We are working hard to ensure this never happens again and to build a better bank for the future.”
But even the new estimates could be underestimating the extent of the problem. For its latest review, Wells Fargo examined internal data dating back to 2009 rather than 2011 as it had done initially. Yet, the bank has previously acknowledged that instances of unauthorized accounts have been found as far back as 2002.