Wells Fargo continues to tangle itself in scandal. Last week, the bank admitted it forced redundant car insurance on more than 800,000 car-loan borrowers, earning the company $73 million in ill-gotten gains while causing a quarter-million delinquencies and 25,000 wrongful auto repossessions. This comes as Wells tries to manage the fallout of its 2016 fake account scandal, where it generated 3.5 million unauthorized accounts to meet high sales goals. In the past month, Wells has also been accused of secretly changing the loan terms of mortgage borrowers in bankruptcy, falsifying records to charge mortgage applicants for its own delays in application processing, and stealing from mortgage bond investors to pay legal fees in lawsuits filed by those very same investors.
If Wells Fargo wanted to rehabilitate its image, it failed miserably. Senator Elizabeth Warren wants the board of directors removed. Congresswoman Maxine Waters says she’s writing a bill to break up big banks that abuse consumers. And there have been some real consequences for Wells over the past year, beyond threats: They lost tens of millions of dollars when cities and states curtailed business with them after the fake account scandal. Senior managers have been sacked, and even the CEO stepped down, a rarity in an age of fleeting corporate accountability.
None of this is good enough. We habitually allow giant corporations to harm customers, employees, and the economy with relative impunity. That’s despite the fact that we, the public, give corporations the ability to exist. Every legal corporation must obtain a corporate charter, a written contract detailing the company’s structure and objectives. And the same government that grants charters can take them away, and should, if the corporation repeatedly violates the law.
Though politicians of all stripes claim to support corporate accountability, and those on the left frequently campaign on the issue, calls for a corporate death penalty are extremely rare. But the modern enforcement regime makes a mockery of the law, as governments feign powerlessness against an entity they themselves created by granting it a charter. Simply put, if Wells Fargo keeps using its power as a bank to rip off customers, it shouldn’t be a bank anymore.