News Column

Customers Happier With Credit Unions Than With Big Banks

Dec. 11, 2012

Andrew Dunn

bank vault

Wells Fargo & Co.'s customer service ratings dropped from the top spot in the American Customer Satisfaction Index this year for the first time since the bank acquired Charlotte-based Wachovia.

With a significant increase in its score, JPMorgan Chase & Co. took over the No. 1 ranking among big banks, the first company not affiliated with Wells Fargo to hold the position in more than a decade. Wachovia had ranked tops in the index from 2001 to 2008.

Wells Fargo's customer service has been under particular scrutiny in the year since the Wachovia name faded away, with at least one prominent analyst suggesting service had suffered since the changeover. In a statement, Wells spokesman Josh Dunn said customer experience is critical for the bank, and said its customers have rated service at an all-time high in feedback directly to the bank.

"We are committed to continually improving our customers' experience with us, and we're always looking for ways to apply their input and further strengthen our customer service," he said.

Charlotte-based Bank of America Corp. remained the lowest-rated of the big banks for the second year in a row. JPMorgan occupied the spot in 2010.

"We take feedback from our customers very seriously and what they've told us here is clear," Bank of America customer experience executive Allen Jones said in a statement. "Better, more consistent service is central to our efforts, but we know we have more work to do. We are committed to getting it right."

JPMorgan Chase representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index annually ranks 230 companies in 47 industries, ranging from health care to apparel. Its data come from 70,000 interviews conducted over the course of the year. The banking industry has been tracked since 1994.

Big banks still lag significantly behind credit unions and smaller banks. Among large banks, only JPMorgan Chase improved its score over last year's.

The banking industry as a whole, however, saw its score increase.

"As more customers move from large banks to smaller banks and credit unions, the overall customer satisfaction level for banks goes up as a matter of mathematics," index founder Claes Fornell said in a statement. "As the smaller banks do a better job with customers and therefore attract more of them, customer satisfaction for banks on the whole gets a boost."

The index's results do not give any specific reasons for a company's increase or decline in score. Fornell cited an overall frustration with fees as a driver of big banks' declines.

Wells Fargo's customer service has been called to public attention in the past year as East Coast customers adjusted to the conversion from the Wachovia name in October 2011.

In July, Rochdale Securities bank analyst Dick Bove penned a lengthy research note complaining about his experience in recent branch visits and transactions. He also questioned whether the bank had put a greater emphasis on selling than on service.

Wells Fargo is known for its focus on cross-selling, or increasing the number of financial products a customer has with the bank. Several employees who contacted the Charlotte Observer earlier this year said they felt this had an ill effect on service.

The bank has rebutted those assertions in the past.

"As a company, we're very clear that we want to sell the customers the products they need and not one product more," spokeswoman Aimee Worsley told the Observer in October. Bank executives also pointed to internal surveys showing increasing scores.

The bank also had regularly cited its American Customer Satisfaction Index scores.



The latest American Customer Satisfaction Index rankings, on a 100-point scale:

-Credit unions: 82

-Smaller banks: 79

-JPMorgan Chase: 74

-Wells Fargo: 71

-Citigroup: 70

-Bank of America: 66

SOURCE: American Customer Satisfaction Index

Source: (c)2012 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.

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