Consumer Advocates Protest Wells Fargo’s Annual Shareholders Meeting for Third Year Running

From 2006 through 2013 Wells Fargo foreclosed on upwards of 6,100 loans in Alameda County, giving the San Francisco-based bank the distinction of foreclosing on more homes in the region than any other financial institution.

In 2011, despite being smack in the middle of the foreclosure crisis, Wells Fargo’s top six executives were awarded a combined $55 million in pay. In 2012, pay for the bank’s six-person executive team shot upward to $71 million, just shy of the $76 million Wells Fargo dedicated to first lien principal reduction on home loans in Alameda County through the National Mortgage Settlement.

Today, Wells Fargo’s executives and shareholders are gathered in San Antonio, Texas for the mega-bank’s annual investors meeting. Many have speculated that the location is due largely to Wells Fargo’s desire to keep protesters away.

The last time Wells Fargo held its annual meeting in San Francisco, in 2012, thousands of rally-goers blocked California Street, and protesters locked down blocking doors into the Merchant’s Exchange Building where the meeting was in session. Aggrieved homeowners and community leaders yelled through megaphones, and a few protesters owning nominal shares of Wells Fargo stock slipped into the meeting to voice dissent against the bank’s lending practices and investments. In 2013 Wells Fargo moved its annual meeting to Salt Lake City.

“We will always respect the rights of Americans to peacefully assemble, and we welcome open and collaborative dialog with our stakeholders,” the bank said in a statement.

Whether or not this year’s Texas venue is intended to keep critics away, a coalition of community, labor, and immigrant’s rights groups has converged again on Wells Fargo’s annual meeting. The protesters are demanding that Wells Fargo end what they claim are the bank’s use of illegal tactics used to continue foreclosing on homes. They want the bank to submit to an independent review of its mortgage servicing practices. Activists are also demanding that Wells Fargo divest from payday lenders that exploit low-income workers, and private prison companies like the Geo Group that the banks own stock in.

Roxanna Zamora of Whittier, California is in San Antonio today to bring attention to the plight of borrowers like her. “What I need is for Wells Fargo to give me a fresh start—a fair loan modification that reduces my principal and interest, and removes the years of added fees and arrears that have accumulated while I’ve been in this fight,” said Zamora in a press statement.

“Housing counselors across California who help homeowners avoid foreclosure cited Wells Fargo as the hardest servicer to work with for a second year in a row,” said Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, a group that closely tracks bank performance in California. “Communities of color are especially impacted by bad loan servicing, as documented by a new GAO report, which found differences in outcomes relating to trial modifications, cancelations and re-default rates for Limited English Proficient and African American borrowers,” said Gonzalez.

Wells Fargo disputes all these claims and says it’s reaching out to customers and helping them refinance burdensome home loans. The company has held five home preservation workshops in the East Bay with more than 2,700 homeowners attending. “In the Oakland MSA, through December 2013, approximately 27,500 Wells Fargo Home Mortgage customers have been helped or are in the process of being helped through one of the available workout options,” wrote Mariana Phipps of Wells Fargo in an e-mail. “In the Oakland MSA, for every 1 customer that has gone into foreclosure, we have helped or are helping 3 more with alternative options.”
“We work hard to keep our customers in their homes when they encounter difficulties,” said Phipps. “We view foreclosure as a last resort.”

Fair lending advocates remain unswayed by statistics like these. They point to the conditions they see on the ground, and say that the banks are continuing to use illegal and deceptive practices to accelerate the foreclosure process. Complaints against mortgage servicers received by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reflect this perception. Complaints against mortgage servicers and lenders topped the list last year at 37 percent of total complaints received, showing widespread frustration among borrowers with banks like Wells Fargo.

The California Reinvestment Coalition and other community advocates have submitted a proposal for the Wells Fargo’s shareholders to vote on this year that would require “an independent review of the Company’s internal controls to ensure that its mortgage servicing and foreclosure practices do not violate fair housing and fair lending laws.” Wells Fargo’s board of directors opposed the motion. Shareholders voted the proposal down earlier today.

As the Express reported last week, details about Wells Fargo’s compliance with the National Mortgage Settlement are considered confidential, and will not be released by the California Attorney General’s office without the bank’s consent. It’s impossible to tell below the county-level how much relief Wells Fargo provided to homeowners, and in what form. For example, we don’t know how much relief Wells Fargo has provided to homeowners in Oakland where banks like World Savings (purchased by Wells Fargo in 2008) doled out thousands of predatory and discriminatory home loans that have caused a large proportion of foreclosures over the past eight years. It’s unknown how much of the $3.2 billion in financial assistance Wells Fargo provided to approximately 34,000 Californians went to low-income borrowers, and if the money was unequally distributed based on race and gender.

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