Wells Fargo, the lender grappling with a scandal involving unauthorized customer accounts, had its outlook lowered to negative from stable by Fitch Ratings.

"The outlook revision reflects potential damage to the firm's franchise and earnings profile following recent regulatory actions regarding improper unauthorized account openings," Fitch said Tuesday in a news release. Fitch reaffirmed the San Francisco-based lender's rating of AA-/F1+.

A negative outlook means there is "a heightened probability" of a rating downgrade in the future, Fitch says.

Authorities including the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined Wells Fargo $185 million on Sept. 8 for potentially opening about 2 million deposit and credit card accounts without authorization. The debacle escalated over the last few weeks, with Chief Executive John Stumpf appearing twice before congressional leaders and giving up more than $40 million in compensation.

The ratings company said that even as "customer damages appear limited," the scandal could pressure the bank's earnings.

"While [Wells Fargo] emerged from the financial crisis in a much better position than similarly sized peers, Fitch believes this issue creates reputational risk given the issue and allegations are understandable to the general public, in a way that misdeeds at other banks are not," Fitch said.

Ancel Martinez, a bank spokesman, had no immediate comment.

Wells Fargo's stock has tumbled 20% this year, the worst performance in the 24-company KBW Bank Index.

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