How to find the best bank for personal business? The worst? Much depends on what you seek. Companies that rate bank satisfaction often limit rankings to one or more types of services. Plus, institutions included in surveys may be limited.
To find the worst FDIC-insured institutions, we first sought federal complaint information. But complaints are tracked by four different federal agencies -- each with different disclosure rules. Different affiliates of an institution may have different regulators. And mergers and charter changes skew data.
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The Office of Thrift Supervision declined to provide the 10 institutions under its jurisdiction with the largest number of complaints in 2007.
Generally the institutions with the largest customer bases attracted the most complaints, OTS spokesman William Ruberry says. The FDIC provided a list of 10 outfits with the most complaints under its jurisdiction in 2007, in alphabetical order. But it declined to provide a ranking in terms of complaints or actual numbers by named institution.
The Fed said our request would require tons of work, so it required a written request, under the Freedom of Information Act. But Fed spokeswoman Susan Stawick warned it was unfair to list financial institution complaint information by agency due to the wide disparity over the number of institutions each oversees.
The Fed, she indicates, regulates about one-sixth the number of institutions overseen by the FDIC and less than one-half the number under Office of the Comptroller of the Currency jurisdiction.
Only the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates national banks --including the largest credit card issuers -- gave us data on the institutions with the largest number of complaints:
10 national banks with largest number of complaints in 2007
|Bank||Number of complaints||% of total|
|Bank of America||7,230||25.5|
|J.P. Morgan Chase||4,890||17.3|
|HSBC North America||1,963||6.9|
|The Royal Bank of Scotland Group||537||1.9|
|Total Top 10 complaints||24,278||85.7|
Source: Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
FDIC-regulated institutions with the largest number of complaints (alphabetically) in 2007
1. Advanta Bank Corp.
2. American Express Centurion Bank
3. Applied Bank
4. Bank of the West
5. Barclays Bank Delaware
6.Branch Banking & Trust Company
7. CIT Bank
8. Columbus Bank & Trust
9. Discover Bank
10. First Bank of Delaware
In the market for a checking account, savings account or small personal loan? The University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index, tracking bank customer satisfaction since 1994, ranks Wachovia Corp. tops. But the ACSI only measures five large banks -- a number sliced nearly in half over time due to mergers.
David Van Amburg, ACSI's managing director, says bank customer satisfaction dropped to its low point in 1999, and since has been climbing. He attributes the upswing to fewer bank mergers and the fact that banks, when they do merge, handle customers better.
You wouldn't know that by looking at banks selected for the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, given by the U.S. president to businesses.
The last bank to get the coveted award, in 2000, was Los Alamos National Bank in New Mexico. The award is based on leadership; strategic planning; customer and market focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; human resource focus; process management and results.
Best in overall satisfaction with credit cards, J.D. Power and Associates reported last October: American Express.
The study is based on responses from 7,812 credit-card users. Highest retail banking satisfaction, J.D. Powers reported last June, goes to Commerce Bancorp in the Mid-Atlantic region; Washington Mutual in the Midwest and West/Pacific region; Bank of America
in the Southeast; and Woodforest National Bank, Houston, in the Southwest. The poll, based on responses from 20,898 households, examined transactions, product offerings, account statements, convenience, fees and problem resolution.
Worried about identity theft? Javelin Strategy & Research, Pleasanton, Calif., in November 2007, shows Bank of America scores tops on identity-theft prevention, detection and resolution. Javelin uses phone-based mystery shopper investigations and reviews Web sites from 25 selected institutions.
Ironically, Chris Jay Hoofnagle, who analyzed Federal Trade Commission complaint data on identity theft, also ranks Bank of America highest in the total number of events. Of course, Bank of America is the nation's largest bank, so it's natural it would have more complaints. Hoofnagle, in his Feb. 26 report, tracked monthly Federal Trade Commission complaint data in January, March and September 2006.
Following Sprint and AT&T, J.P. Morgan Chase, he says, is the next bank with the largest number of identity-theft complaints. Next: Capital One and Citibank, which, you might recall, touted its helpfulness to identity theft victims on network television.
Spouses Gail Liberman and Alan Lavine are syndicated columnists. Their latest book is "Quick Steps to Financial Stability" (Que/Penguin).