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Survey: Consumers prefer small banks, credit unions

December 14, 2010 |  4:57 am

Americans continue to prefer small banks and credit unions to larger institutions, according to an annual survey of satisfaction with financial services.

Small banks held steady in this year's American Customer Satisfaction Index, with a combined rating of 80 out of 100. Major banks scored mainly in the high 60s, with only Wells Fargo & Co. exceeding 70.

Credit unions also averaged 80, but that represented a sharp drop in satisfaction. The survey said higher fees and cost-cutting that resulted from economic and regulatory pressures were to blame.

Consumers seem to be taking higher bank fees in stride and finding ways to avoid them by banking online and doing more to avoid overdrafts, said University of Michigan business Professor Claes Fornell, the director of the survey.

Nonetheless, Fornell said, satisfaction with checking, savings and personal loans has not yet returned to thelevels seen before the banking crisis.

Individual ratings were released only for the four largest consumer banks, with Wells Fargo on top, unchanged at 73.

The San Francisco bank was followed by Citigroup Inc., up 1.5% to 69, and Bank of America Corp, up 1.5% to 68. JPMorgan Chase & Co. fell 1.5% to 67, its fourth straight year of decline.

"Customer service seems to have taken a toll in the wake of Chase’s acquisition of Washington Mutual," Fornell said.

The American Consumer Satisfaction Index, which began in 1994, was released by the University of Michigan until last year. Now operating as an independent market research firm, it is funded through subscriptions by corporations that receive detailed information about how their customers perceive them. It releases findings each month on a different sector of the economy.

The results are to be posted Tuesday at 5 a.m. Pacific on the survey's home page.  

-- E. Scott Reckard