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I received an e-mail from Wells Fargo informing me of an important change in terms. When I went to their website and finally found the notice, it was a notice that effective February 15, 2012, the bank was implementing a "Dispute Resolution Program: Arbitration Agreement" which requires any dispute unable to be resolved informally to be resolved through binding arbitration.

The announcement of the change in terms was copyrighted by Wells Fargo, so I don't feel comfortable quoting it at length. "Disputes" are pretty much anything related to my relationship with my bank, including "disagreements about the meaning, application, or enforceability of this arbitration agreement." The agreement applies even after one terminates accounts, and it makes explicit that the customer and the bank are waiving the right to a jury trial or before a judge in a public court.

The agreement also says that a dispute can be submitted to arbitration even if a lawsuit is already underway, and that class actions are forbidden.

When I called Wells Fargo to find out just what the nature of this new "agreement" was, I was transferred up the chain to a special section handling calls about the announcement, and then had to wait on hold while the person in this special section read the announcement and figured out what it meant.

From what I was then told, Wells Fargo is unilaterally altering the business agreement with its customers so that binding arbitration is the only means (outside of small claims court in cases within that jurisdiction) that disagreements can be resolved. Customers, simply by being customers of Wells Fargo, are waiving their rights to obtain redress in a court of law, and there is no ability to opt-out.

Caveat emptor.

3:53 PM PT: Back from work. Quite a response here! Thank you for all the advice and thoughtful comments. I plan on moving my money out of WF. I just thought this "arbitration or get out" unilateral announcement would provide food comment here. I was right.

Sat Dec 24, 2011 at 9:12 AM PT: To those confused that they have not received the announcement:

It could be that the change is only being implemented for some customers in some states or on some accounts. I originally opened my account in 1990 with a different small bank about five take-overs ago and in a different state from which I now live. I only became a Wells Fargo customer when they took over Wachovia. Maybe they are modifying the terms of old Wachovia accounts to match terms that Wells Fargo accounts have already had. I really don't know.

I just know that I received the announcement of a major change in the terms with which I do business with my bank and I was given no say in the matter, and I don't like that.

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