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Credit unions and small banks tops in service

By Claes Bell · Bankrate.com
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Posted: 8 am ET

If you bank at a small bank or credit union, you're probably a happier and more loyal customer, at least according to a study published this month by Prime Performance.

The study found 87 percent of credit union customers and 86 percent of small bank customers (banks less than 300 branches) were satisfied with the service they received. Banks with between 300 and 4,000 branches did less well, with 74 percent of their customers expressing satisfaction with their service.

Of the three big banks the study singled out -- Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo -- Chase did the worst, with only 67 percent feeling satisfied with the bank's service. Overall, 77 percent of banking customers were satisfied with the level of service they got.

Small banks and credit unions also scored higher than large banks in customer loyalty and the likelihood they would recommend their financial institution to their friends. A dismal 52 percent of Chase customers would recommend the bank to their friends, followed closely by 54 percent of Bank of America customers. In contrast, 83 percent of credit union customers and 78 percent of small bank customers would spread the word to friends about their financial institutions.

The Credit Union National Association couldn't help doing a little crowing over the results:

"The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) is not surprised at the finding, because this confirms what study after study have found," Bill Cheney, CUNA president/CEO, told News Now. "It's fine to be included with 'small banks' in a survey such as this. However, it's also important to note the very real and fundamental difference between banks and credit unions, regardless of size: Credit unions' not-for-profit, cooperative structure.

"Ultimately, that's what separates all credit unions from the rest, and drives their passion to provide the best service to their members, rather than amass profits," he added.

The thing that seemed counterintuitive to me about these numbers wasn't that credit unions and small banks have happier customers; it was how high the numbers were all around.

For all the horror stories I hear about banks in the media and from friends, it seems remarkable that so many people are pleased as punch with the service they're getting from their financial institutions. I mean, I know a lot of people like credit unions, but an 87 percent satisfaction rate for customer service? A 77 percent satisfaction rate for service in the industry at large? Bet you wouldn't find a number that high in the telecom industry.

Trying to square that circle, the best I could come up with is that banking is a competitive business. If you really hate your bank, it's easy enough to pick up your checking account and move, so there's not much reason to stick around if you're truly dissatisfied.

What do you think? Are customer approval ratings so high for financial institutions because they're just flat-out awesome, or because it's so easy to dump a financial institution you hate? Or is there some other reason I'm missing?

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1 Comment
Jim S Miller
December 09, 2010 at 6:53 pm

As the author of the Prime Performance study let's see if I can answer a few of your questions. While banks have taken a beating in the media (much of which is justified), they have also been making efforts to improve their service. This study is unique because we interviewed customers after they interacted with a live person at their bank. Most bank and credit union employees work hard each day to provide their customers with a great experience. Customers may not like the bank, but usually like the teller or representative they deal with. The tellers certainly weren't involved in creating the financial crisis.
We get insight into what customers think about their bank as a whole when we look at which banks are doing what is right for their customer's bottom line, rather than their own. Only 44% of customers feel the bank is doing what is best for the customer. At credit unions this is 59% and at Chase only 34%. Generally customers are satisfied with the service they receive, but don’t really trust their banks. This is especially true at the larger banks.

Banking is a competitive industry. It is easier to move your checking account than to switch telecom providers. But it is easier to switch retailers than banks. A Forrester report earlier this year ranked Retailers and Hotels at the top two industries in customer experience, Banks in the middle and ISPs, TV service providers and Health Insurance Plans at the bottom (with Health Insurance plans well behind every other industry). It does seem to have a strong correlation to consumers’ ability to change providers.

Readers can access the Prime Performance 2010 Bank and Credit Union Customer Satisfaction Survey at http://insights.primeperformance.net/index.php/post/credit-unions-and-small-banks-lead-in-customer-satisfaction/

Jim S Miller|PrimePerformance.net