The Least-Trusted Banks in America

Customers of the biggest banks in the United States are the least likely to believe their financial institution does what’s best for them as opposed to what’s best for the bottom line, according to a new report from Forrester Research.

The report, Forrester’s annual Customer Advocacy rankings, ranks nearly 50 financial services firms in the United States by the percentage of each firm’s customers who agree with the statement: “My financial provider does what’s best for me, not just its own bottom line.” The results are based on a survey of about 4,500 consumers.

The bottom seven of this year’s rankings, first to last, are Bank of America, Chase, Capital One, TD/Commerce, Fifth Third, Citibank, and in last place, HSBC.

Among Bank of America customers, 33 percent agreed with the statement above, while 31 percent of Chase customers agreed, 29 percent of Capital One customers agreed, 28 percent of TD/Commerce Bank customers agreed, 27 percent of Fifth Third Bank customers agreed and 26 percent of Citibank customers agreed.

Among HSBC customers, only 16 percent said they agreed with the statement, the lowest customer advocacy score ever reported in the United States, down 10 percentage points from HSBC’s score last year and in line with other recent similar poor rankings of other HSBC units.

An HSBC spokesman declined to comment on the survey, since he hadn’t seen it yet.

To put the rankings in perspective, large banks have generally been at the bottom of the list since the survey was initiated seven years ago, and many of the banks have alternated between the bottom spots year to year, said a Forrester vice president, Bill Doyle, who wasn’t aware of anything particular HSBC has done recently that would make its score so low. Last year, for instance, Capital One was at the bottom with 22 percent of its customers agreeing with the statement. In fact, the more customers a banking institution has, the lower its customer advocacy ranking is likely to be, according to Forrester.

Why the poor rankings for the big banks? “Part of it is that the banks are preoccupied with their bottom line. They are public institutions who are in business to make money for their shareholder and inevitably, that shows to customers,” Mr. Doyle said.

A high customer advocacy ranking means that customers tend to believe their bank takes their side in disputes, does what is right even if it’s not required by regulation to do so, gives fair rates or performance comparisons and is clear about charges and fees, Mr. Doyle said.

Wells Fargo/Wachovia, by contrast, did better than the other big banks. About 40 percent of its customers said they believed the bank does what is best for them, with Wachovia’s customers probably pulling up Wells Fargo’s ratings, Mr. Doyle said. Wachovia has generally done substantially better in the rankings than the other big banks.

According to Mr. Doyle, customer advocacy rankings are a predictor of customer retention and attrition, and customers who rate their financial service firms high are more likely to consider their firm for additional products. In contrast, customers who give their banks a low ranking are most likely to switch in the next year and are “going to be reluctant to put any more money and open new accounts at those institutions,” Mr. Doyle said.

This means the low rankings don’t bode well for the bigger banks, many of which are reaching federal limits for how much they can increase deposits by acquiring other banks and must rely on attracting more customers to increase revenue.

Credit unions ranked much higher than the big banks, as they have in previous years, with 70 percent of credit union customers saying their financial institution puts their interests first. Mr. Doyle said this is because of credit unions’ different operating model — they are owned by customers — and because they tend to emphasize customer service.

After credit unions, the bank run by USAA, a financial services company that serves the military and their families, came in next with 64 percent of its customers agreeing with the statement. It was followed by ING Direct, with 46 percent. Regional banks including PNC, U.S. Bank and BB&T came in next with rankings similar to Wells Fargo/Wachovia. Regional banks, which often can’t afford big advertising campaigns, tend to emphasize customer service, Mr. Doyle said.

Insurance firms, meanwhile, remained the highest rated firms for customer advocacy, with more than half of all customers rating their insurers high on customer advocacy and insurers representing two-thirds of the firms in the top half of the rankings. The ranking of investment firms, meanwhile, fell below banks for the first time since the rankings began. Investment firm rankings tend to fall when the market isn’t doing well, Mr. Doyle said.

Posted in Banks, Finance.


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