What’s behind the decline in consumers’ satisfaction with banks?

Photo (c) Grady Reese - Getty Images

We did a deep dive into consumer reviews looking for answers

In December J.D. Power issued a report that found bank customer satisfaction had practically fallen off a cliff. In particular, younger bank customers were the least satisfied.

Paul McAdam, senior director of banking services at J.D. Power, said banks appeared to be falling short of expectations when it comes to branch service, new customer onboarding and resolving customer complaints.

“As a result, we’re seeing young, well-educated, high-income customers driving a steady decrease in customer satisfaction,” McAdam said at the time. “This is a clear warning sign for banks because key metrics like intent to reuse the brand and customer perception of having a relationship with the brand are also in decline, suggesting a future erosion of new business these customers will bring to their banks.”

When ConsumerAffairs looked into how consumers rate major national banks, we found even more dissatisfaction. Since January 1, Citi has 24 reviews posted on ConsumerAffairs – all of them 1-star reviews, the lowest possible rating. Allison, of Columbus, Ga., is one of the reviewers who didn't mince words.

“Citibank is by far the worst bank I have ever used,” Allison wrote. “They are a nightmare to talk to and just repeat everything the other says when I'm trying to ask a question. They ‘closed’ my account without warning and then said it would take up to 60 business days for it to be closed. Because of this, my money in this account is sitting in limbo for that long.” 

Bank of America has 15 reviews, 14 of them 1-star reviews. The single exception is a 2-star review. Angela, of Dunn, N.C., told us her problem with the bank started when someone made a fraudulent purchase with her account.

“BOA caught and froze my account,” Angela wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. “They closed the claim but are refusing to release my money. I have called multiple times a day for seven days and after being told it will be three to five business days I still don't have my money!”

Half of the 1-star Bank of America reviews concerned mortgages or credit cards. Wells Fargo is marginally better. It has 20 reviews so far in 2023, 18 of them 1-star reviews.

But the two exceptions include a 3-star and a 5-star review. Interestingly, the 5-star review is from a mortgage customer wanting to know how to file a claim in the bank's recent settlement.

There are similar results for JPMorgan Chase and Capital One. So, where are banks going wrong with customers? Some common phrases showing up in 1-star reviews include “hung up on,” “promised savings bonus not paid,” and “wouldn’t let me withdraw my own money.”

Experts weigh in

While we have no demographic data, the experts we consulted agree with the J.D. Power assessment that younger consumers don’t feel their needs are being met. Marco Santos, CEO at Americas GFT, a firm helping large banks with digitization projects, says long-established national banks have operated for years with little competition.

“This legacy is catching up with them,” Santos told ConsumerAffairs. “Consumers have long been frustrated by steep fees and low-interest savings rates, but haven’t had much in the way of an alternative.”

But Santos says the rise of fintech firms has changed all of that, offering consumers an alternative approach to banking that addresses these frustrations and providing the same level of digital experiences that consumers are accustomed to in other areas of their lives. 

“For instance, while we’re now able to do things like make purchases or send money from anywhere with the click of a button, some banks have yet to replace their manual, often paper-heavy processes with similar capabilities,” he said.

Dan Kimerling, managing partner at financial services venture capital firm Deciens, says banks have made it difficult for consumers who work nine-to-five jobs and describes their products and services as “uninspired.” 

‘General dissatisfaction’

“There is general dissatisfaction with banks and a feeling there could be something better,” he told us. “But everyone has soured on banks and are left with low expectations.”

Santos says the digital newcomers in the financial industry are raising consumers’ customer service expectations with anytime access and solid digital communications.

“They’re also less complicated with fewer restrictions, meaning that people have less to speak with customer service about in the first place,” he said.

Kimerling agrees, and points to startups Zeta, True Link, and SimplyWise, which he says are pushing the boundaries and giving banks a new level of competition.

ConsumerAffairs reached out to the American Bankers Association (ABA) for insights into the challenges banks may be facing but did not receive a response by publication time.

Take a Financial Relief Quiz. Get matched with an Authorized Partner.