Bank satisfaction: Nowhere to go but up

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American Banker magazine's second annual reputation survey reinforces the findings of its first: Most of us are dissatisfied with our banks.

Last year, the magazine hired a brand consulting company called the Reputation Institute to probe customers' deepest feelings toward their financial institutions. To absolutely no one's surprise, not a single bank out of the 30 surveyed earned a C grade, or a 70 on a 100-point scale.

Not one.

This year, the magazine juggled the bank criteria a bit, a move that eliminated last year's top performer (New York Community Bank, with a high-D 68.1), and guess what -- two of the 30 actually cleared the 70-point bar the institute considers the line between an average and strong reputation.

If you want to call C strong.

Chicago-based Harris Bank (73.09) and Utah-based Zions Bank (70.22) claimed the sole distinction of being able to chant, "We're above average!"

Of course, if you're like me and bank with one of America's megabanks, you can already smell the disappointment. Seven of the 10 largest U.S. banks ranked in the bottom 10 for reputation: HSBC (61.30), U.S. Bancorp (60.31), Chase (59.79), Wells Fargo (57.82), Bank of America (53.40), Citibank (52.22) and (drum roll, please) Capital One Financial at a rock-bottom 50.52.

Of course, banks will slice this fallen soufflé to their advantage, noting the dramatic innovations that improved their score a couple points here and there. Citi, for example, yielded its spot at the bottom to Capital One.

But according to the institute, here's what the point spreads really say about their reputation: Above 80: excellent/top tier; 70-79: strong/robust; 60-69: average/moderate; 40-59: weak/vulnerable; and below 40: poor/bottom tier.

That means that the reputations of five of the 10 largest banks in the United States rank as weak/vulnerable, in a field where only two banks could barely make it out of the average/moderate category.

Come on.

These are banks with plenty of intelligence, experience and, dare I mention, a treasure trove of our own savings with which to work. Shouldn't at least a few of them be edging 80 instead of struggling to clear 70. Or 60?

I suppose if you had to find some light at the end of these dismal rankings, it's that there is apparently plenty of room for improvement when it comes to customer service and overall perception.

Or that the Reputation Institute was able to round up enough bank customers to participate.

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