FINANCIAL FIRMS THAT PUT THE CUSTOMER FIRST
Kiplinger's Personal Finance|February 2022
We evaluated major banks, credit card issuers, mortgage lenders, and home and auto insurers to see how well they treat their clients.
LISA GERSTNER
When you choose an institution to provide your checking account, credit card, mortgage or insurance policy, you know that it’s important to take a close look at interest rates, fees, policy premiums and all the other factors that affect how much money you’ll spend or save with your selection. But customer service is often an afterthought, mostly because you need to commit to being a customer before you can evaluate how good the service is. Unless you’ve been really lucky, you know how frustrating a run-in with poor customer service can be. If your mortgage lender doesn’t get you to the closing table on time, or your auto insurer drags its feet in paying for repairs after an accident, you may be left without a place to live or a car to drive longer than you expected. Likewise, superior interest rates and low fees don’t mean much if the banks and credit card issuers that offer them fail to quickly put a stop to fraudulent transactions or address other difficulties with your accounts.

To help you add customer service to the decisionmaking equation, we present our second annual rankings of large financial services firms. We’ve evaluated major banks, credit card issuers, mortgage lenders, and home and auto insurers based on how they treat their clients. Last fall, we conducted a nationwide survey of the current customers of 10 firms in each of the four categories, asking respondents to rate the companies on several aspects of their experience. Based on the results, we selected the highest-scoring five or six finalists in each category (the number chosen depended on whether companies tied for placement) and then put each of those firms under the microscope.

We factored in consumer complaints about the companies tracked by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), and we reviewed the mobile apps and websites of the firms to see whether customers are well served by their digital tools. We tallied scores for each component of our research to determine gold, silver and bronze medalists in each category, and we called out the firms with the best digital tools, too. (For more on how we chose the winners, see page 71.)

A key takeaway is that great customer service and attractive financial terms are not mutually exclusive. All but one of the banks that earned our customer service accolades also made appearances in our most recent rankings of the best banks based on account yields and fees (see “The Best Bank for You,” Aug. 2021). And all of the credit card issuers mentioned in this article earned a spot in our latest rankings of credit cards based on how bountiful their rewards programs are (see “The Best Rewards Cards for You,” June 2021).

BEST BANK FOR DIGITAL TOOLS: Capital One

Capital One didn’t break into our top three banks overall in part because of a high number of complaints to the CFPB relative to its size. But we consider its mobile app and website the most user-friendly of the bunch, combining simple navigation, an attractive interface and a handy set of features for bank customers. Account balances are displayed neatly and prominently on the home page, and you can drill down into each account to see a listing of recent transactions and other details. One notable app feature: Rather than tapping a button to complete certain transactions, such as transferring funds or depositing a check, you drag the button across the screen—seemingly a safeguard against sealing a transaction with a stray hand movement before you’re ready to do so.

BANKS

Gold: Chase

Silver: Wells Fargo

Bronze: TD Bank

Whether you have a checking account, savings account, certificate of deposit or loan with a bank, you’ll benefit from interacting with representatives who are helpful in managing your accounts and correcting problems that arise. And if you do most of your banking online, access to robust digital tools is a must. Even if you like to visit a branch occasionally, the ability to deposit checks and receive account notifications from your phone can save you time and alert you to unusual activity in your accounts.

The competition was close among our bank contestants, but CHASE edged out the rest. Chase is the largest bank in the U.S., in terms of both domestic assets ($2.5 trillion) and domestic deposits ($2 trillion). The bank has more than 4,700 branches spread across 48 states and Washington, D.C., so chances are good that those who prefer in-person services will be able to find a location.

Chase prevailed thanks in part to its relatively strong showing in our analysis of CFPB complaint data. Of the complaints about Chase, nearly onefourth concerned problems with account deposits and withdrawals, such as slow or halted transfers or delays in deposited funds becoming available to customers. Other top issues involved using an ATM or debit card, closing customer accounts, and unauthorized account charges by lenders or other companies. Even so, in our survey of current customers, Chase was among the top two institutions for nearly every attribute ranked.

Chase’s mobile app and website come packed with features, although we sometimes had difficulty navigating among them. Customers can set e-mail or mobile alerts to be notified of a low account balance, an overdrawn account, a direct deposit or check posted, a changed account password, or an upcoming bill payment. You can also switch off your debit card in case it’s lost or stolen (and switch it back on if you find the card) or order a replacement card. If you need assistance from Chase, you can send a note through the Secure Message Center, schedule a phone or branch meeting with a representative, or view a list of customer-service phone numbers. The app also features a virtual assistant that can answer certain questions or take specified actions, such as paying bills or transferring money.

WELLS FARGO earns the silver medal. Like Chase, it largely owes its standing to a reasonable number of complaints to the CFPB relative to its market share. About half of the complaints concerned problems with deposits and withdrawals or with an ATM or debit card, banking errors, and unauthorized transactions by a lender or other company.

Notoriously, Wells Fargo came under fire in 2016 for opening millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts without customers’ permission. Since then, the bank has paid out billions of dollars in customer refunds and settlements with regulators, and it has made changes within the company, such as removing the high-pressure sales goals that fueled the scandal. And in our survey, current customers generally expressed satisfaction with the bank. Its app and website have clean interfaces and check most of the boxes for the features that bank customers have come to expect, although it offers fewer account-activity notifications than many of its peers.

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