Survey Shocker: Consumers Actually Happy With Banks

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Consumers are happier with their banks, according to an annual survey by J.D. Power & Associates.

For the first time since 2007, consumer sentiment toward retail banks improved, rising four index points to an average of 752 (on a 1,000 point scale) from 2010 to 2011.

The improvement comes despite the fact that during the past year, banks introduced new fees, raised old ones, failed to offer better interest rates and killed their debit card rewards programs

So what led consumers to say they felt more satisfied with banks in 2011?

The survey results indicate that satisfaction with account information, facility, problem resolution and product offerings all improved in the past year. Perceptions of a bank’s brand and image improved for the first time since 2008, and satisfaction with account activities remained stable.

But these improvements are relative, considering that overall satisfaction has been on a downward spiral for the past three years. And the respondents did fess up to some gripes.

The most notable complaints concerned fees, with overall fee satisfaction dropping 84 points in 2011. According to J.D. Power, it’s not the fee itself that upsets customers, but not knowing how these fees are assessed. 

“Being charged a fee does not necessarily have to result in dissatisfaction,” Michael Beird, director of banking services at J.D. Power and Associates, explained in a press release. “Customers who completely understand their bank’s fee structure and value the products and services they receive tend to have higher levels of overall satisfaction, despite paying fees.”

As MainStreet has reported, many banks have restructured their account offerings in an attempt to recoup lost revenue due to new regulations, the most recent being an interchange fee limit imposed by the Federal Reserve under the Dodd-Frank Act.

Unsurprisingly, 18% of respondents said their fee structure had changed during the past year, compared with 16% in 2010.

Beird said that confusion over fee structure should subside since other regulations under the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 of CARD Act require more transparency on the part of financial institutions.

“The good news for consumers, and the challenge for the industry, is that banks are being forced to clearly define the value they’re providing for the prices they’re charging,” he said.

The survey, conducted from January to February, polled nearly 52,000 retail banking customers. The results also indicate that while small banks outshined big banks in terms of satisfaction, some big banks did perform well.

You can see what banks ranked highest in customer satisfaction by region on J.D. Power’s website.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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