Petition Delivered to PNC Financial and Wells Fargo Calling on the Banks to “Revoke Their License to Steal”

Most of the Nation’s Biggest Banks Are Using Forced Arbitration to Block Ripped-Off Consumers From Their Day in Court; CFPB Can Write a Rule


Yesterday, a petition signed by more than 67,000 consumers and activists was delivered to the PNC Financial Services Group Inc. headquarters in Pittsburgh and the Wells Fargo & Co. headquarters in San Francisco calling on these banks to remove terms in their contracts that deny customers their right to a day in court. 

The petition organized by national consumer and citizen groups including Public Citizen, Consumer Action, The Other 98%, Alliance for Justice, American Association for Justice, Americans for Financial Reform, National Association of Consumer Advocates, targeted the five biggest banks that use forced arbitration clauses: PNC, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and US Bancorp.

Public Citizen delivered the petition to PNC in Pittsburgh, while Consumer Action delivered the petition to Wells Fargo in San Francisco.

Forced arbitration clauses, buried in the fine print, prevent consumers who have been harmed or ripped off from holding their bank accountable in court and instead force them to plead their case to a private arbitration provider, picked by the banks. The result is that consumers cannot practically or fairly resolve disputes with powerful institutions or seek remedies for harm caused by wrongful conduct of such institutions.

 “Our organizations have observed how banks have used arbitration clauses to violate consumer protection laws,” the groups said in letters (PDF) delivered with the petitions. “Some of these violations have led to severe economic harms to consumers and the financial marketplace at large.” 

The petition comes as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) studies the use of forced arbitration by financial institutions against their customers. It has been nearly a year since the CFPB released its preliminary data on the arbitration study, confirming that the practice is prevalent in most everyday consumer financial products. The CFPB is authorized to ban forced arbitration after it releases the final report. 

“With forced arbitration, Wall Street has granted itself a license to steal from Americans and evade the law,” said American Association for Justice President Lisa Blue Baron. “The tremendous response to this petition sends a clear message that Americans are outraged by this despicable practice. It is time for financial institutions, as well as all corporations, to honor the rights of customers and stop using forced arbitration.”

“The broad response that the petition has received around the country shows a strong consumer demand for an end to this rigged game designed by Wall Street,” said Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

“Many consumers don’t even know that buried in their contracts is a forced arbitration clause that preemptively blocks their right to a day in court,” said Alexis Goldstein, communications director at Other98.com. “Forced arbitration is a secret weapon America’s biggest banks are using to deny basic rights to citizens.”

“Forced arbitration is a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the banks. Getting rid of it is about holding them accountable if they break the law, and making sure they too have to play by the rules,” added Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform.

“It’s not acceptable for banks to force consumers to give up legal rights in order to open an account or get a credit card,” said Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action. “Along with our allies, we call on these powerful large institutions to do the right thing and eliminate forced arbitration in their contracts.”

“These five Wall Street banks are stripping away a constitutional right to a trial by jury from their customers if they have been cheated or harmed. It’s time for JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, US Bancorp and PNC Financial to respect their customers and stop using forced arbitration,” said Ellen Taverna, legislative director of National Association of Consumer Advocates.

“Facing off against a big bank in arbitration is like playing a baseball game in which the other team hires and fires the umpires,” said Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice. “Today customers are demanding that banks restore the rights that have been lost in the fine print.”

Read the petition.

View the letter to PNC (PDF).

View the letter to Wells Fargo (PDF).