Here’s why Wells Fargo forces its customers into arbitration: It wins most of the time


The fine print: portion of an arbitration clause from a Wells Fargo credit card agreement, which binds the customer to arbitrate almost any dispute with the bank and forbids class actions. (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau)

A new study shows just how advantageous arbitration has been for Wells Fargo. Short answer: For the bank, it’s been great.

The study comes from Level Playing Field, an Arizona nonprofit that maintains a database of arbitration awards. The group mined records of 215 cases filed against Wells Fargo in 2009-2016 for its report. Its core finding is that of 48 consumer-initiated arbitration cases that resulted in a financial award, consumers won a documented victory in only seven, collecting a total of $349,549. The bank prevailed in 13 cases, collecting $485,208. Records for the other 28 cases don’t identify a winner, but in those cases Wells Fargo was awarded $519,458 by the arbitrators, while the consumers received only $82,527.

Those figures reflect the “improbable chance that consumers will be compensated wholly or at all” in arbitration, says Matthew Waldron of UC’s Hastings School of Law, who has analyzed statistics of arbitration cases involving Wells Fargo and other banks. The Level Playing Field report notes that plaintiffs prevail in more than 60% in state court contract cases that go to trial, but won only 35% in the Wells Fargo cases — seven out of 20 — in which the victor was identified in the arbitration record. Wells Fargo declined to comment on the report.

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