The Biden administration’s office for Historically Black Colleges and Universities sent out an email newsletter Tuesday that highlighted content written directly by Wells Fargo and linked to promotional materials for the bank’s debit card products.
The email was sent by the Department of Education, which hosts and operates the White House initiative to advance educational equity, excellence and economic opportunity through historically black colleges and universities. A few hours later, the Department of Education resent the same newsletter without content from Wells Fargo, and a spokesman for the agency called the episode a “bug.”
The first email contained two paragraphs copied word for word without quotation marks from a Dec. 20 promotional article posted on Wells Fargo’s website, which discussed the bank’s sponsorship of four HBCU football games.
The newsletter also invited readers to “customize your banking experience with Wells Fargo’s HBCU Legends’ Collection” by linking to marketing materials about debit cards offered by the bank with co-branded HBCU logos or mascots .
“The email that was sent today was inappropriate and the Department has already taken steps to ensure that such an error does not happen again,” an Education Department spokesman said in an email, adding that the White House HBCU initiative none has partnership with Wells Fargo.
A Wells Fargo representative did not respond to a query about whether the bank had a hand in creating the newsletter.
The weekly newsletter is publicly available and mailed to subscribers who opt-in to receive information about HBCUs from the Department of Education. The newsletter does not appear to be published online but was received by a POLITICO reporter who signed up for the list.
In all, the email, which included Wells Fargo’s logo, contained at least eight different links to Wells Fargo content, including the bank’s job listings and various pages describing its diversity and inclusion efforts. For example, it included a link to a Wells Fargo video on YouTube promoting the bank’s sponsorship of HBCU football games. And the email also linked to content sponsored by Wells Fargo on the Blavity website entitled “Wells Fargo Is Showing Up for HBCUs.”
The newsletter contained a disclosure below stating that its content was not intended to be an endorsement of “products or services offered.” But a major bank promotion is a departure from the typical content of the weekly letter, which usually focuses on job opportunities, programs or scholarships available to HBCU students and graduates in various federal agencies.
The Department of Education email promoting Wells Fargo comes after other parts of the Biden administration cracked down on the bank.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined the company $3.7 billion in December, the agency’s highest ever, as part of a settlement to settle allegations that Wells Fargo’s auto loan, mortgage and deposit accounts are bad managed. On Tuesday, the CFPB released information, apparently by accident, on how millions of consumers could access some of the money from this settlement.
The Department of Education regulates financial products marketed to college students or as part of university-bank agreements, including some products offered by Wells Fargo.
A CFPB report last year criticized the department for essentially taking a lax approach to enforcing these regulations, known as “cash management” rules. The Department of Education announced earlier this month that it plans to begin revising these regulations.
More than three dozen universities have reported to the Department of Education that they have reached agreements with Wells Fargo to offer campus financial products, according to information published on the agency’s website.