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New satisfaction index CUs top banks
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (12/12/12)--Credit unions in the U.S. again topped banks in member/customer satisfaction levels, according to the most recent nationwide survey released Tuesday by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

Credit unions remain best-in-class for financial services and set the bar for customer satisfaction among all service industries covered by the ACSI. The survey has garnered coverage by national media, including CBS News, The Los Angeles Times and The Boston Globe.

However, as credit unions continue to welcome members who are leaving banks behind, the industry has not been able to sustain the same level of service as before: member satisfaction dipped 5.7% to 82, the survey said. That score is still five points higher than the banks' average of 79.

"The large influx of new customers for credit unions, many of whom left banks because of rising fees, poses new challenges for customer service," says Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and author of The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference. "The question becomes, How to best serve a fast-growing customer franchise? The more customers you have, the more difficult it gets."

Customer satisfaction with banks regarding checking, savings and loan services grew by 2.7% to 77, mostly due to client satisfaction for smaller banks. The nation's largest bank, JPMorgan Chase, was the only big bank to increase customer-satisfaction levels. Small banks--stable at an ACSI score of 79--continue to outclass large banks and capture market share because of it.

"As more customers move from large banks to smaller banks and credit unions, the overall customer satisfaction level for banks goes up as a matter of mathematics," says Fornell. "As the smaller banks do a better job with customers and therefore attract more of them, customer satisfaction for banks on the whole gets a boost."

JPMorgan Chase leads among big banks. With a 6% rise to an ACSI score of 74, the bank matches its prerecession result from 2007. Other big banks have to deal with deteriorating customer satisfaction. Wells Fargo slid 3% to 71, and Citigroup retreated 4% to 70. Bank of America (BofA) declined 3% to 66, reaching its lowest level of customer satisfaction in over a decade.

"The total fees from overdraft charges alone in 2011, most of them from big banks, amounted to more than $30 billion," says Fornell. "[Consumers] increasingly are rejecting the ever-mounting fees charged by large banks and taking their business to credit unions instead. BofA, in particular, stands out as the only bank that is still below its prerecession customer satisfaction level. It is clear that this is mostly because of fees. Customer satisfaction was probably set to deteriorate further as additional fees were in the making until a few weeks ago, when BofA backed away from the idea."

To read the ACSI survey release, use the link.

In a separate matter, credit unions in Seattle have passed BofA to become the No. 1 financial institution choice in the Seattle area (The Seattle Times Dec. 11).

Currently, 28% of Seattle-area households primarily conduct financial services with credit unions--up from 21.5% in 2008, according to research done by The Seattle Times news librarian Gene Balk. BofA fell to 23.9% from 29.7% in 2008. To read the blog post and financial institution statistics, use the link.
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