Overall customer satisfaction with banks stabilized during the last year, with community banks continuing to show higher scores than either super-regional or national banks, according to the annual survey of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
Customer satisfaction with credit unions, meanwhile, has slid by 4.7 percentage points. Traditionally, credit unions have received higher scores than all types of banks, but this year’s results place them roughly on par with community banks.
Customer satisfaction with banks is unchanged at an ACSI score of 76, despite cost cutting and rising fees for out-of-network ATMs. National banks earn an ACSI score of 72, significantly below the average for super regional banks (76), which are smaller than national banks, but still outsize regional and community banks. Among the largest national banks, the gap from top to bottom grows. Only Wells Fargo Bank improves, gaining 4 percent to an ACSI score of 75. The remaining three largest banks deteriorate as Citibank dips 1 percent to 73 and Chase retreats 4 percent to 71. Bank of America falls further behind after slipping 1 percent to 68.
Super regional banks are included in the ACSI by name for the first time this year, and the leaders of this group rank far ahead of their national counterparts. Regions Bank is the highest-scoring among super regionals at 79, just ahead of PNC Bank (78) and the duo of BB&T and Capital One (tied at 77). U.S. Bank matches the average of all banks at 76. Fifth Third Bank and TD Bank post matching scores of 75, while SunTrust Bank comes in at 74. Citizens Bank makes a lackluster debut at 70.
Regional and community banks, measured in aggregate, are the highest-scoring category in retail banking at 80. According to customers, smaller banks tend to offer more personalized service, better interest rates and fewer fees—a combination that puts them on top for satisfaction.
An analysis of industry customer experience benchmarks for banks shows that smaller usually means better service. For nearly every benchmark, scores improve as the bank category gets smaller. According to customers, regional and community banks have by far the most competitive interest rates (78), well ahead of both national banks (69) and super regionals (72). For the latter two categories, interest rates are the least satisfying aspect of customer experience. Credit unions do better on interest rates with a benchmark of 80 in 2015, although this represents a 5 percentage point year-over-year decline.
For banks overall, courtesy and helpfulness of staff (87) and speed of service transactions (85) are the industry’s strong points, although these benchmarks have eroded over the last two years as banks continue to cut costs (both are down 4 to 5 percentage points compared with 2013). Smaller banks, with their more personalized approach, continue to provide the speediest service (87) and their staff are the most helpful (89).
There are only two areas where large national banks provide a better customer experience: number and location of branches and ATMs (both 78). Nor surprisingly, smaller banks—with their more limited resources and community focus—earn their lowest benchmarks for amount of branches (68) and ATMs (74). All bank categories, however, fail to reach the 80s for either branch or ATM locations, which is another indication that cutting costs may be souring the customer experience for the overall industry.
Customers are pleased with their website experiences, which is critical as more banking business moves online. Bank website satisfaction overall averages 85—just a point below credit unions. Customers are less happy with call center operations (80), but this mark has improved over the past year (up 4 percentage points since 2014).
Credit unions are struggling to stay ahead of small banks amid an influx of new members. As credit union membership surpasses 101 million, customer satisfaction with credit unions is down 4.7 percentage points to 81, only a point ahead of regional and community banks.
“Smaller, more nimble companies that can provide a more personalized experience tend to perform better than large corporations,” says David VanAmburg, ACSI director. “This has been the advantage for the credit union industry, which for years has led banks by a wide margin in ACSI. But as credit unions add large numbers of new members, they may struggle to maintain better service levels compared with traditional banks, particularly small community banks, which now nearly tie credit unions.”
ACSI data show that both smaller banks and credit unions provide similar service levels that far exceed large national banks across most elements of the customer experience—including staff courtesy, transaction speed, service variety and competitiveness of interest rates. National banks, by virtue of their size and resources, maintain an advantage in just two areas: number of branch locations and ATMs.
The ACSI report, which is based on 9,202 customer surveys collected in the third quarter of 2015, is available for free download at www.theacsi.org/news-and-resources/customer-satisfaction-reports/reports-2015/acsi-finance-and-insurance-report-2015.
The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States.