How are banks and credit unions performing with customer service? One key measure is to look at complaints filed with the state.
Complaints against Florida financial institutions were down considerably in 2015. While 626 complaints were filed, that’s down from 949 in 2014, and measures about a third of the 1,840 filed in 2009, during the financial crisis, according to a new report compiled by economist and banking industry expert Ken Thomas. The report is based on data from the Florida Division of Financial Institutions. Thomas has been reporting on the trends in complaints to the state since 2008.
“With the time it takes to make a complaint to the state, well, you have to be really upset. The complaint is a big deal,” Thomas said. “This is the voice of the consumer — this is the public speaking. ”
Wells Fargo led the state with 71 complaints, and Bank of America was No. 2 with 53. But these two banks also have the largest market share in the state, so higher numbers are expected. For that reason, Thomas created a Bank Complaint Index (BCI) that factors in both the number of complaints and the institution’s deposit market share. A BCI of 1.0 is considered average, but ideally should be 0.5 or lower, he said.
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In BCI, Bank of America indexed at 0.5, while Wells Fargo, which has come under fire recently for allegedly creating millions of false accounts, held a BCI of 0.8 in 2015, according to the report.
The nature of the complaints has changed since the peak years of the financial crisis, when most of the complaints were about foreclosures or mortgage modifications, Thomas said. In 2015, the most complaints, 29 percent, were about account balances and associated fees and 24 percent were about loans.
Yes, there were some large banks with zero customer complaints, Thomas said. Notably, the largest of those was City National Bank of Florida, with 26 offices. “To have nearly $5 billion in deposits and hundreds of thousands of customers and not one complaint is pretty impressive,” Thomas said. The next largest banks with no complaints were Iberia Bank, Sabadell United, New York Community Bank, Ocean Bank and Seacoast National.
Thomas’ report, the 2015 Florida Bank Complaint Analysis, also showed that complaints about credit unions have been growing steadily the past three years. In 2015, 42 percent of the institutions with the most complaints were credit unions, and they had BCI ranking ranging from 3.8 (Vystar) to 8.8 (Space Coast). Suncoast Credit Union had the most complaints at 32.
As important as complaints are, customers owe it to the bank or credit union to be fair, Thomas said. “Before firing off a complaint, go up the food chain, starting with the branch manager, and try to work it out. It’s been my experience that banks will work with you because they know these numbers will be made public.”
Consumers can access the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s complaint database for free at www.consumerfinance.gov/data-research/consumer-complaints.