Wells Fargo Bank Frustrates and Angers Safe Deposit Box Holders
Wells Fargo safe deposit box holders were surprised recently when they received a letter titled, “Safe Deposit Lease Terms effective June 24th.” Certain provisions caught many safe deposit box holders by surprise.
While not new, these points caught many box holders by surprise and was particularly unsettling as the west coast is experiencing yet another horrible outbreak of fires destroying homes and businesses, the southeast which is in the midst of what appears to be a very active and dangerous hurricane season, and urban areas continue to experience looting with branch banks being one of the targets. In addition, many banks remain closed for walk in business due to Covid-19, limiting customers access to safe deposit boxes.
However, the following terms in the contact are new:
“Limitation of Box Contents Value”; It is our (the Bank’s) expectation that you will not place items of significant value in the Box. Accordingly, you agree you will not place items with an aggregate value in excess of $10,000 in the Box at any time.”
Furthermore, the agreement provides:
“Wells Fargo’s maximum liability will be limited to $10,000 with respect to any claim arising out of, or related to, the Lease Agreement, Lease terms, the Box and or the Box Contents.”
Do not interpret this provision as Wells Faro agreeing to compensate you up to $10,000 if anything happens to your box contents- such as a fire, flood theft or any other event. Rather, Wells is indicating if the bank was found to be negligent in a court or arbitration proceeding, its liability is limited to $10,000. Wells Faro has a long history of aggressively defending claims by box holders for losses resulting from its safe deposit box operations. The unilateral imposition of these new terms is clear evidence that Wells will remain vigilant in fighting those claims.
It is also noteworthy the new rules do not explicitly require box holders to remove property from their box if the current assets values exceed $10,000. Nor did Wells Fargo reserve the right to seize the contents of any box where it has “reason to suspect” assets exceeding $10,000 are being held, a right the Bank explicitly retained if they suspect the box contains property illegal to possess under federal law or dangerous items.
What if you have more than $10,000 of assets in your Wells Fargo box?
First, do not race down to your branch to close or remove items from your box.
Statistics don’t lie. A safe deposit box at a financial institution or private facility provides far superior security and protection that a home or office, even when you have a quality safe. Until you have another secure storage option don’t place your valuable at risk
The first and easiest option. Leave the assets in your box at Wells Fargo. We reached out to some Wells Fargo bankers who readily admit there is no way to enforce the $10,000 limit and no direction or guidance has been provided by corporate to the branch staff with respect to the new restriction. In 2015 Chase Bank imposed a limit of $25,000 in aggregate value in its Boxes. Many box holders had values far exceeding that amount in their box and Chase did nothing to enforce that contact term. It is reasonable to assume the Wells, like Chase, still does not care what is being placed in your box, they just want to limit their liability to $10,000. By prohibiting the amount in the lease terms to that same amount it strengthens its legal position to enforce that loss limitation in court or arbitration. If you do keep your box at Wells Fargo, consider getting insurance to protect those assets. See below for more.
If you want to get a box at another bank, keep in mind you will likely be required to open an account to rent a box and, particularly if you have a large box, they may not have your size. Depending on where you live, a private safe deposit box facility may be an option. SecurePlus accredited private vaults offer state of the art security, personalized service and flexible hours which is becoming more difficult for banks to deliver.
What About Insurance for My Box Contents?
There is a reason why large banks such as Wells Fargo and Chase are working so hard to limit their liability. The amount of losses originating from their safe deposit box operations over the last few years has skyrocketed as they shrink staff at branches, reduce training and generally de-emphasize the safe deposit box services.
If you have insurance with us on your Wells Fargo Box, rest assured the contractual limits in the lease term do not impact your coverage. For example, if you have $50,000 of insurance for valuables in your box, and your box is burglarized, you will be paid for the full $50,000.
Your insurance also covers the wrongful or mistaken seizure of your box contents by Wells Fargo. Thus, if they decided to drill your box because they thought you had more than $10,000 of assets in the box and your property was lost, this is a covered under your policy.
If you do not currently have insurance, it is the last line of defense and provides peace of mind should anything happen to your box. We specialize in insuring valuable assets in safe deposit boxes at secure facilities across the country. The unique feature of our program is disclosure of the box contents is not required, allowing you to maintain confidentiality. It takes 5 minutes and you are insured. Coverage is underwritten by a world class insurance company. Go to www.safedepsoitboxinsurance.com or call us at 224-227-6181.
Your SDBIC Team