The History of Wells Fargo Bank

Carriage in Wells Fargo History Room
••• Robert Holmes / Getty Images

Once associated with cash-transporting stagecoaches that provided a target for highway thieves, Wells Fargo & Co. today is one of the nation's largest banks and offers free mobile banking by text, web browser or smartphone apps. Wells Fargo serves one of every three U.S. households and offers banking, insurance and investment services.

Then and Now

Founded in March 1852 by Henry Wells, William Fargo, and their associates, Wells Fargo first opened several months later with branches in San Francisco and Sacramento, Calif. Today, the company's website makes it easy for customers to sign in and view their accounts or open new accounts. Customers must specify their state because account details vary somewhat across the country. Checking and savings accounts are designed to appeal to customers at various financial levels.

Account Offerings

A basic checking account (Value Checking) can be opened with a $100 deposit. Customers pay a $5 monthly fee unless they maintain a $1,500 balance or use direct deposit. College Combo checking targets students. A $3 monthly fee is waived if the account is linked to a campus ATM or debit card. The fee also is waived if a customer maintains a $500 balance or uses direct deposit.

At the high end, Wells Fargo's PMA package offers the most benefits, including free checks and other services plus a limited number of waived ATM fees. The account can be opened with $100 but carries a $30 monthly service charge on balances less than $25,000.

Savings Focused Options

Three of Wells Fargo's savings account options are Goal Savings, which can be opened for as little as $25 and requires a $300 balance to avoid the $3 monthly service fee; Money Market Savings, which can be opened with $100 and requires a $3,500 balance or automatic transfer to avoid the $10 fee; and High Yield Savings, which pays a higher interest rate and requires a $25,000 balance to avoid the $25 service fee.

Online Tools

The bank was one of the first to offer Internet banking, beginning in 1989. Today, Wells Fargo serves about 17.4 million online customers. Online services include a free money management tool where customers can track spending; another free tool that helps customers to meet savings goals; a credit resource that helps them manage credit and reduce debt; and a bill-paying service.

The Future for Wells Fargo

In 2010, the bank was ordered by a California federal judge to pay $203 million in overdraft fees back to customers. The judge criticized the company for calculating the fees to achieve the highest dollar amount rather than in the order of the transactions. On a brighter note, Wells Fargo, a pioneer of Internet banking, was recognized by Global Finance magazine as the Best Consumer Internet Bank.