Pew Charitable Trusts Survey Banks for Transparency

Written by: Scott Sery

The Pew Charitable Trusts is constantly watching the consumer market and doing research on their findings.  Their goal is to inspire governmental change.  Lately they have issued the results of their latest survey, actually a combination of two different surveys.  They looked at some of the largest banks in the country and determined how friendly they were to their customers.  Specifically they looked at their checking account policies.  The results of the study are not all that shocking.

You remember the movement Occupy Wall Street.  These demonstrations were protesting how corporations have forgotten about the people that built them, instead becoming focused on their profits.  A spinoff of the Occupy movement was Bank Transfer Day.  In essence, those who were tired of being treated as cash machines would liquidate their accounts and move to a smaller bank or credit union.  At these smaller institutions many people found friendlier customer service, service that is tailored to them.  But there are still millions of people who use the larger banks.

Larger banks, and larger companies in general, are notorious for mistreating their customers.  It is not intentional malevolence, but rather the result of a company becoming so large that automated systems are put into process.  This automation eliminates the personal touch of the company, and often people end up subject to fees that they didn’t necessarily deserve.  For instance, I have a friend who paid off his car loan, but between the time the check was written and when it was received, he incurred $3 of interest.  Something that stayed on his account for several years, and ended up negatively affecting his credit score.  Pew Trust has looked at these large banks, and they have shown just how good of a job they do in the customer relations department.  The winner is:

Nobody really.  While Ally Bank scored the best out of any of the banks, it did not score perfectly across the board.  The study looked at how the banks do with disclosures, overdrafts, and dispute resolution.  They were then ranked by receiving a star for best practices and check mark for good practices.  Out of a total 7 possible stars and 11 possible checks, Ally received 6 and 9 respectively.  At the other end of the spectrum First Niagara Bank earned no stars and just 5 checks.

The study looked at how clear and concise the companies were about their fees and costs and they looked at how upfront they were in their disclosures.  While the companies that scored the best did not necessarily have the lowest fees, they were those that had guidelines in place and were willing to work with customers to reduce overdraft occurrences.  And even though there is a lot of negativity toward these large banks, it should be noted that 97% of those surveyed scored at least one star.  But it should also be noted that 14 of the 50 top banks failed to even provide key terms on their websites or by mail.  These companies are trusted with millions of dollars, yet still fail to provide full disclosures.

The study is not meant to deride any one bank.  Instead it is meant to inspire customers to demand best practice procedures.  As the study says, “Better clarity and transparency for checking accounts will make this market more competitive and, as a result, more efficient.”  When people are forceful and will not settle for less than the best, the companies will meet them with what they want.

What bank do you use?  Are they upfront and clear with their rules, regulations, fees, and costs?


Pew Charitable Trusts Survey Banks for...

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