Are You Happy With Your Bank?


Since my focus is on credit cards, I keep an eye on the banking industry. This helps me predict trends.

Sometimes the trends look positive for consumers. Sometimes they don't, especially if I sense there's a new fee on the horizon. But for a nice change of pace, I decided to look at another side of the banking business — customer satisfaction.

So I looked at the December 2012 American Customer Satisfaction Index. Here are a few interesting tidbits from the Index:

  • Chase scored the highest in customer satisfaction among big banks, followed by Wells Fargo.
  • Smaller banks, in general, score higher than big banks.
  • Credit unions have the highest satisfaction ratings of all.

When I started digging into the details, it got even more interesting. For instance, Chase is the only big bank that experienced an increase in customer satisfaction in 2012. Let's take a closer look at what's going on. (See also: Why I Like Big Banks)

How the Big Banks Fared

Really, most big banks have an image problem. In many cases, it's their own fault because they make some pretty lame PR blunders.

Bank of America had the lowest score at 66. This bank has been upfront about adding fees over the past few years. For this, they get high marks for transparency, but low marks for underestimating public reaction.

Remember the $5 per month debit card fee they tried to charge? They got flamed on social media and they were pummeled on the airwaves. To Bank of America's credit, they pulled the fee in question. But the damage to their image was already done.

And this isn't well known, but Bank of America is one of the few banks that doesn't apply retroactive rate increases to credit card balances even when they can legally do so. But this kind of positive news doesn't get much play in the media. So part of the problem is the bad PR when they mess up; and then, there's no good PR when they do something nice.

But Chase doesn't seem to have this issue and the bank scored pretty well at 74. I will say that I rarely hear complaints about Chase credit cards. Now that I've said that, if any of you have issues, I'm sure you'll let me know!

I've often said that I think consumers are much smarter now about their finances than they were before the recession. It occurs to me that banks might be smarter now, too. Sure, they're adding fees here and there, but many banks now seem more sensitive to how public opinion impacts the bottom line.

Local Banks Offer the Personal Touch

I use one of the big banks for my checking and savings accounts and I have no complaints. Maybe it's because I use the same branch for all my needs. I even go into the branch now and then, so the people who work there know me and my family. I even got a free tomato plant one day. Maybe I just have a unique situation going on here, but it works for me.

I think this is similar to what you get when you bank with a smaller, local bank. People like to go to a place where everyone knows their name. It's not only pleasant, but it makes you feel special and like your money is in good hands. This welcoming feeling is why people go to the same bars, the same restaurants, and even the same grocery stores.

Besides the warm feeling of being known, another plus with a local bank is that they might negotiate with you on account fees or offer you a credit card even if another issuer would turn you down. Big banks aren't as likely to work with you if you don't meet their requirements upfront.

Survey Says: We Really Like Credit Unions!

Credit unions scored a healthy 82. And this was even down from the previous month, which was at 87.

Remember Bank Transfer Day? It was on November 5, 2011 and it was a reaction to a sudden rash of higher bank fees. Customers were asked to move their money from big banks and put them in credit unions. It was somewhat successful because there was a big increase in credit union members in the past year.

It's certainly not a surprise that credit unions score high in customer satisfaction compared to banks. Banks have a fiduciary duty to make a profit for their shareholders. They're operating in a different environment and with different income goals.

In contrast, a credit union is a nonprofit, financial cooperative that lives to serve its members. Every customer is a member as well as an owner. So credit unions and banks operate in a very different environment.

This is why you'll see many credit union checking accounts without monthly fees. You also get better interest rates at credit unions. The National Credit Union Administration mandates that interest rates on most loans, including credit cards, be capped at 18%.

For many reasons, I'm a fan of credit union credit cards, especially the cards offered by the Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed). But be aware that you'll need excellent credit to qualify for the top credit union cards.

If you're interested in finding a credit union for your banking or to apply for a card, check out

Burning Questions…

I didn't move my money to a credit union on Bank Transfer Day because, like I said, I was happy with my bank. After all, I got a free tomato plant. But I do have my eye on a credit union credit card that I want to apply for this year.

Did any of you move your money to a credit union last year? I'm just curious!

OK, I'd also like to know if you love or hate your bank. And if you don't love your bank, why do you stay?

And here's a really big burning question — do you have a checking account that doesn't charge a monthly fee? I'm wondering if checking accounts fees have sent you packing to a new bank.

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Guest's picture

I feel safer with small local banks. They pay more attention to our needs.

Very good article!

Beverly Harzog's picture

Hi Jonn -- I know a lot of people agree with you. It's nice when you get more personal service! I'm glad you liked the article. :)

Guest's picture

Citibank has been closing branches near me (in NJ), and I'm not liking having to pay ATM fees.

Chase has opened some and has the proximity factor. Plus, their customer service continually rates high as does their innovation.

After over a decade with Citibank, I think I'm moving to Chase.

Beverly Harzog's picture

Hi Matt -- I think you have very good reasons for making a change. I didn't really think about how changes in local circumstances could create a need for a change in banks. Thanks for your comment! I hope it works out well for you.

Guest's picture

I use a local (actually regional) bank and am quite happy with it; also have my mortgage there. A little over a year ago, they did start charging a fee on their interest-bearing account (which was several times the few cents of interest earned each month) so I moved to their non-interest-bearing account which is still free. There is no charge for ATM transactions at their ATMs, but there is a fee for using the ATM/debit card at POS terminals, so I still write a few checks instead. When I turn 55 later this year, I qualify for a no-fee interest-bearing account and free POS transactions - can't wait!

Beverly Harzog's picture

You're really on top of your banking situation. I love the way you move to new accounts when they start charging. And congrats on the no-fee interest-bearing account you'll get when you turn 55. I think when folks make it to 55 they should get lots of perks!

Guest's picture

We are very happy with Regions Bank, which we acquired after the unbelievably disastrous takeover of Riverside Bank, a small chain that went south in Florida, was rescued by the Feds and sold to the highest bidder (TD Bank). Several loans still remain at TD Bank only because the payoff is soon enough and there is no way to move it all without costing money.

They brag of being convenient but any little thing (like requesting a tax document well past its deadline) turns into a lengthy exercise in exasperated detente. Once paid off, we'll be ditching them but in the meantime, we enjoy no lines at TD Bank since many fellow customers left shortly after the takeover.

As an aside, we don't use bank issued credit cards -- only American Express who has treated us with exceptional service since forever.

Beverly Harzog's picture

Hi SuzeMagoo -- Fabulous name! So sorry to hear about your annoying experiences. Sounds like you have a good plan to escape the situation. And I agree about AmEx. Really exceptional customer service.

Guest's picture

I use a bucket budget system - mainly so I don't have to worry about outstanding checks -I have tried 9 banks total & have kept 5 open. 3 are credit unions & two are kinda large banks. Each bank I use to keep $ for certain things seperate. It works great for me, especially if a Dr or service company sits on a check for a long time.

The Credit Union I've used for 6-7yrs for my household bills I'm getting ready to leave. I'm leaving because I get charged to get a bank statement mailed however, many times i can't access stmts on their website due to their system. In the last year they closed 4 branches and 2 of those were very conveinent to me. The nearest branch, when I withdraw money they frequently give me an amt other then what I requested. Which can be akward when $40 short to buy something off of Criagslist. They want to charge me a fee for getting a new debit card when the one they issued me last year wore out & doesn't work anymore. Due to changes they'v made in the last year, I can't access any account or check history past 90 days online, I have a dispute with a vendor right now & need the last 6 months worth of checks I wrote to said vendor - I have to pay a research fee of $25/hr to get check copies farther back then mid-November.

My other two credit unions i love their service.
One I use to save up for my property taxes & such. I've had the acct for about 5 years and used them for random things until the local branch closed 2-3years ago. They pay good interest & have provided great customer service. They no longer have a branch in my town so that's why I don't use them much any more.

The 3rd credit union I've used off & on for 15years. They annoy me often however, usually a little while after irking me they offer some service no one else has & that brings me back. I can access check copies on their website going back upto 3 yrs, they send a weekly summary of bill pay things I have scheduled to go out so I know if I missed a pymt & I don't have to login to their site to see what I have setup to go out. In the last year they added a reports feature to their website so I can generate all sorts of neat reports. The one I like the most is a report of tax deductible items. I'm switching to use these guys as my primary bank because of the weekly emails & the reports. I was going to close them last year and kept not getting to it. An annual automatic deposit accidentally went to them & that's how I discovered the new web features. They should put this stuff in their newsletter - if I'd known sooner I would have switched my paycheck to them within a month!

I also have a Greatwestern account for my food & gas money - I originally opened it for daycare funds but my last kid outgrew days care last year. I like this bank because I get an email within 15 minutes of a problem or incoming deposit. If I goof up on my numbers & go negetive i have 24hrs to get money in there without a fee. Also they have branches all over my region which makes it easy to grab money or get assistance. They replace my debit card for free when ever it's stopped working (usually the strip wears out). They also provide free check copies with my statements which was extremely useful back when my kids were in daycare, 3 times over the years i had providers say I owed them & check copies are proof of pymt.

The other bank is USAA and they are OK. I've had them for almost 20years. They used to be my primary bank and then my food/gas acct until they made their website really complicated & their billpay page was so crammed I had trouble reading it (would actually have to change my monitor settings to read it). I kept it open because of my insurance, it's free to have the account open and my retirement account is linked to it. They are a good bank, I just have limited time & get tired of how long it takes to load or find info I need on the site. Between my work & kids I have about two quiet thrity minute windows every week to do finances.

I've become convinced that banks are like shoes & fit everyone differently with their different featues & services. I have to have a free acct & reliable, legible web access and also a branch that's easily accessable after work in the event i need to drop off a check or get $ for the kids allowance or garage sales.

Guest's picture

Sam this kind of detailed personal review is exactly the reason why I prefer to read sites like Wise Bread. Thank YOU for sharing your useful experiences with your banks. Everyone I know who uses USAA loves them. I might have to check them out.

Guest's picture

USAA bank has been a good bank as far as customer service goes. I'm hoping someday their website goes back to the simple version they used to have. I needed to print out something for taxes last week & there was so much info crammed on the webpage that it was overwhelming. Their customer service is great! Thought like most companies they have pushed a lot of stuff to their website... they are definitly worth checking out

Beverly Harzog's picture

Hi Sam -- Thank you so much for sharing all these details. I find it helpful and I know many others will, too. It's really good of you to take the time to do this. I'm super impressed with your system!

By the way, I love the shoe analogy. And sometimes your shoes wear out and you have to toss them and get a new pair. :)

Guest's picture

My husband and I moved our money to a local credit union last year on the "Move Your Money" day and it was the best decision we could have made. We have free interest bearing checking and savings accounts. There are no ATM fees and if we use another bank's ATM, our credit union pays their usage fee. They send drafts for free, no need to write checks, I just set it up online. We also refinanced our mortgage with our credit union. The interest rate is very low and they hold our loan and will not sell it to a big bank. Our last bank sold our mortgage to Wells Fargo...worst bank I have ever dealt with.

Beverly Harzog's picture

It's wonderful to hear a success story from the "Move Your Money" day last year. Your credit union sounds like a keeper!

Guest's picture

"Chase scored the highest in customer satisfaction among big banks, followed by Wells Fargo."

Oh good, I used to argue frequently that I've been with Wells Fargo (and Wachovia prior to WF purchasing it) for years and I've never experienced a single problem. On the other hand, the endless complaints I encountered about WF was beginning to make me wonder if I had a magic aura preventing poor service or something, but this ranking seems to confirm others feel the same.

I've also recently sign up with a few other banks, including a credit union and online one. What can I say? I wanted to try them all. Surprisingly enough, the online bank I chose (Ally Bank) was lauded for incredible customer service (as most online banks seem to have), but I had more issues with them (system-wise and customer service) than I've ever had with Wells Fargo.

Mind you, Ally is still very good. The ATM fee reimbursement and high interest rate will pretty much guarantee my continued usage. And really, the issues I encounter didn't bother me that much anyway (albeit they were very annoying).

As for the credit union? Well, I finally got to experience the 'personal touch' I keep hearing about. Even months after I got the account, I was still getting calls from them asking if I was alright and happy. All in all, though, the suspected lack of convenience was definitely there -- low amount of ATMs, inability to do certain things (like close a checking account) without going to a branch, horrible online account management UI, and even a maintenance fee for having an ATM card (!!).

To get to the point, each type of bank have their pros/cons, but overall, I haven't encounter any major issues with any of them. If questioned, I would say my ideal situation is two accounts: One with Ally for the interest/ATM reimbursement and one with Wells Fargo (or whichever major bank is most prolific in your area) for the convenience and the ability to deposit cash.

Beverly Harzog's picture

Hey Mario -- Thanks for all the details you've shared. One reason I love writing for Wise Bread is that the readers here are the best!

Your comment about every bank having pros and cons is right on. And another point you made that I like is about the convenience. Sometimes it's worth a little annoyance if a bank is convenient and you save on fees.

Guest's picture
Russel James

It's sad to see that Bank of America has the lowest score since this is the bank I am using. However, I am really unhappy with it lately so I just might switch to a better solution. Chase looks fine.

Guest's picture

Chase is ok. They are kind of pushy with their addon services but other than that they are better than Bank of America.

Beverly Harzog's picture

Hey Russel -- In spite of the survey results, I know some people who are happy with BoA. But if you're unhappy, there's no reason you shouldn't shop around for a better banking experience.

As a few have mentioned, convenience is also a factor since it can save you money and time. If you have Chase in your area, I'd check it out. You might also check out credit unions and local banks so you can compare and choose the best bank for your needs. Best of luck in your search!

Guest's picture
Guest Brownie

I am extremely unhappy with my bank....B of A. I DREAD going to that bank for any info.
Am now learning about credit union and intend to change after checking around.
Can one have juzt a zaving account with C.U. and nothing online at all.?
I don't want to do anything online at all.
I only have one cr.card...A/X and am very happy with them.
What iz Ally?

forgive the zzzz ..letter after R not working but friendz and Google underztand me.

Guest's picture
Gene Thomas

I hope this is an ongoing conversation what with the relatively frequent changes in the banking industry.

I moved the family checking account to Pentagon Federal Credit Union about 4 years ago. At that time you could apply rewards to your monthly statement, dollar for dollar and that was the way we 'spent' our rewards. Unfortunately, within the last few years, Pen Fed has turned the 'Rewards' program over to a third party. Along with that came a 'tax' on rewards. A $50 prepaid rewards card costs you 5880 points (not the 5000 points you might have expected). This is a 17.6% charge for 'managing' the Rewards program and it seems pretty outrageous. Pen Fed will tell you that it pays such and such a percent reward on food purchases and different percent rewards for other types of purchases but they don't tell you that your 'Rewards' will be reduced by nearly 18% when it comes time to redeem points. I have written Pen Fed to complain about this but have not been provided with sufficient justification as to why they have decided that their owner members will receive less than the promised rewards and why they tolerate a nearly 18% 'tax' on rewards as appropriate for running the Rewards program.