Rival banks applauded U.S. watchdog on 2016 Wells Fargo settlement -emails

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, April 6 (Reuters) - Rival lenders privately congratulated the top U.S. consumer watchdog on its $100 million settlement with Wells Fargo over the bank’s phony accounts scandal, according to internal documents published by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this week.

On Sept. 8, 2016, the CFPB and two other regulators announced they had reached settlements totaling $190 million with Wells Fargo after discovering the third-largest U.S. lender had opened as many as 2.1 million bank and card accounts in customers’ names without their permission.

The number of potentially affected customers subsequently grew to 3.5 million as Wells expanded its probe of sales abuses.

The CFPB’s portion of the settlement was $100 million, making it the largest fine in the agency’s short history.

The settlement sparked a flurry of internal back-patting among enforcement officials in the days that followed and, unusually, drew applause from other banks, according to internal emails published following a Freedom of Information Request.

“I have had a number of bankers reach out to me to express gratitude for the CFPB’s action against [Wells Fargo] and disgust that such a situation occurred,” Gary Stein, a manager in the CFPB’s office of deposits, wrote in an email to Melissa Baal Guidorizzi, senior counsel for enforcement, on Sept. 12, 2016.

“While many were from community banks, not all were. I don’t recall an action like this we have taken getting so much applause and so little pushback.”

The next day, Baal Guidorizzi forwarded the feedback to the broader CFPB enforcement team, the documents show.

“Seems that the case was popular even in the banking community. I am hoping that this feedback will help balance some of the concerns about ‘industry’ reaction in our future work. Congratulations again to the team!” she wrote.

Wells had long been celebrated on Wall Street for its “cross-sell” ratio, which measured its ability to sell multiple products to each customer. But the metric had been questioned by envious rivals who struggled to achieve the same results.

In interviews after the Wells Fargo scandal erupted, executives from other banks told Reuters they believed Wells went awry by measuring employee performance through sales and product numbers in its retail operation, rather than using customer service metrics.

The bankers said at the time that while incentive programs differed, it was standard across the industry to incorporate customer feedback when considering employee rewards.

Wells has since changed the way it measure sales performance.

A spokesman for the CFPB declined to comment. Wells Fargo did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Reporting by Michelle Price and Elizabeth Dilts; Editing by Dan Grebler)