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In the annals of image problems, the banking industry ranks right up there .... er, down there ... in the company of Congress, with a high-profile survey ranking Bank of America Corp. at the bottom of the heap.
Five years after the financial crisis, the Reputation Institute survey said banking has a worse reputation than Big Pharma, news outlets, oil companies and telecommunications firms -- though not so bad as Congress. The most highly regarded industries were transport, consumer products, industrial products, food manufacturing and computers.
The consulting firm's survey, published in American Banker Magazine, asked customers and non-customers what they thought of 30 financial-services firms with major retail operations, and broke out responses from both types of respondent.
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Asking customers about their own banking firms often provoked positive responses, the survey found, just as many Americans will tell you they loathe Congress but rather like their own congressional representatives.
Nearly half the banks in the survey enjoy a solid reputation with their customers, which the Reputation Institute defined as a rating of 70 or better on a scale of 100. San Francisco's Union Bank, a subsidiary of Japan's Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, topped the list at 78.2.
Many other financial companies performed moderately well with customers, leaving only three -- HSBC, Wells Fargo and Bank of America -- with scores below 60, indicating a "weak or vulnerable position," according to the survey.
Non-customers were less kind, rating none of the financial firms higher than 70. Only five mustered moderate scores, with San Francisco's Charles Schwab leading the pack at 63.3, while 22 were rated weak to vulnerable.
Bank of America's customers gave it 52.6 points out of a possible 100, the lowest in the survey of customers, while non-customers branded the Charlotte, N.C., company with a 35.1 rating -- the only poor/bottom tier rating recorded.
In a recent interview with The Times, BofA Chairman Brian Moynihan said he was aware of the survey but paid more attention to the bank's own customer studies, which provide details down to the branch level.
The internal surveys show consistent progress in customer satisfaction, Moynihan said, adding that deposits have been rising sharply and asserting that the rate of customers leaving the bank is at an all-time low.
A Wells Fargo statement said the San Francisco bank surveys more than 60,000 customers of its branches per month, "and customer service scores were at an all-time high in the second quarter of 2013."
More than 80% of those customers indicated they were “extremely satisfied” with their recent visit to a Wells Fargo retail office, the highest possible rating, the statement said.
HSBC, a British giant that recently paid $1.9 billion to settle U.S. government allegations of money laundering, has most of its 275 U.S. offices in New York.
In a statement, it said: "We are strongly committed to continuous improvement in our brand reputation through market-leading products and services that build on HSBC's global insights and international reach."