With the news of mass customer exploitation by Wells Fargo, we evaluated consumer complaints and regulatory violations to see how the rest of the retail banks in the U.S. stack up.
Due to the nature of what they do, banks and financial institutions in the United States are held to high scrutiny. We analyzed data on tens of thousands of consumer complaints as well as settlements and financial penalties for America’s 50 largest retail banks by asset size. This allowed us to create a set of metrics for judging their relative trustworthiness and relationship with customers.
The Banks with the Most Fines & Consumer Complaints
Bank of America
- Consumer Complaints: 44/50
- Regulatory Penalties: 48/50
- Responsiveness: 34/50
- Consumer Complaints: 49/50
- Regulatory Penalties: 50/50
- Responsiveness: 2/50
- Consumer Complaints: 38/50
- Regulatory Penalties: 47/50
- Responsiveness: 47/50
- Consumer Complaints: 45/50
- Regulatory Penalties: 37/50
- Responsiveness: 38/50
- Consumer Complaints: 42/50
- Regulatory Penalties: 41/50
- Responsiveness: 41/50
- Consumer Complaints: 46/50
- Regulatory Penalties: 29/50
- Responsiveness: 43/50
- Consumer Complaints: 50/50
- Regulatory Penalties: 39/50
- Responsiveness: 1/50
- Consumer Complaints: 48/50
- Regulatory Penalties: 38/50
- Responsiveness: 9/50
- Consumer Complaints: 43/50
- Regulatory Penalties: 43/50
- Responsiveness: 12/50
- Consumer Complaints: 42/50
- Regulatory Penalties: 33/50
- Responsiveness: 15/50
The Full List of Banks
The table below shows all 50 financial institutions examined in this study, and their relative rank in the categories we looked at. Note that we grouped certain banks together, if they are owned by a single holding company. For example, Santander Holdings USA, Inc. owns both Santander Bank USA and Banco Santander Puerto Rico.
|Overall Rank||Financial Institution||Responsiveness Rank||Complaints Rank||Regulatory Penalties Rank|
|2||East West Bank||31||3||1|
|3||Umpqua Holdings Corporation||13||8||1|
|5||New York Community Bank||19||14||1|
|6||BOK Financial Corp||3||19||1|
|12||People's United Bank||46||12||1|
|13||Bank of the West||30||17||1|
|17||Zions Bancorporation, Zions First National Bank||26||7||27|
|20||Raymond James Bank, N. A.||35||1||42|
|26||The Huntington National Bank||16||28||24|
|27||Banco Popular North America, Banco Popular de Puerto Rico||45||34||1|
|29||TD Bank US Holding Company||7||32||28|
|30||Ally Financial Inc.||3||30||40|
|31||CIT Bank National Association||50||40||1|
|32||Regions Financial Corporation||20||33||31|
|33||Citizens Financial Group, Inc.||5||39||30|
|35||Fifth Third Financial Corporation||13||36||34|
|36||First Tennessee Bank||41||22||46|
|37||JPMorgan Chase & Co.||29||26||45|
|38||PNC Bank N.A.||28||35||32|
|39||M&T Bank Corporation||33||37||35|
|42||SunTrust Banks, Inc.||12||43||43|
|45||Santander Bank US, Santander Consumer USA Holdings Inc, Banco Santander Puerto Rico||43||46||29|
|46||Wells Fargo & Company||41||42||41|
|48||HSBC North America Holdings Inc.||47||38||47|
|50||Bank of America||34||44||48|
The Best (and Worst) in Each of the Categories
We take a closer look at the three main categories to see which banks ranked the highest and lowest in each. Generally, small community and regional banks performed better than national chains with one exception—responsiveness.
The first group of metrics we looked at was customer complaints. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) maintains a database of all the complaints they’ve received since 2013. These reflect problems users had with any financial product offered by these banks – anything from checking accounts to credit cards. These grievances are typically the result of a customer not receiving a satisfactory response from a bank. That is, they tried to talk to a customer service representative or banker, and were either ignored or unhappy with the result. The CFPB, a government regulatory agency, is typically the next stop for consumers in such a case.
|Rank||Bank||Complaints Per $100M in Assets||Total Complaints|
|1||Raymond James Bank||0.012||4|
|3||East West Bank||0.22||71|
|Rank||Bank||Complaints Per $100M in Assets||Total Complaints|
Regulatory Violations & Penalties
The next factor was regulatory penalties. We sourced data from Good Jobs First's Violation Tracker, which shows fines, settlements and other penalties paid by banks for issues like mortgage abuses, credit card violations and toxic securities. These serve as a good indicator of whether a bank engaged in practices the government deemed as illegal. For example, recently Wells Fargo received media attention after their bankers opened thousands of credit card and deposit accounts for customers without their authorization. As a result, the bank paid $185M in fines and was forced to refund money to affected customers.
|Rank||Bank||Total Assets||Number of Violations|
Highest Penalties Per Asset
|Rank||Bank||Total Penalties||Penalties Per Asset|
|48||Bank of America||$56,690M||26|
|46||First Tennessee Bank||$332M||12|
The last metric was responsiveness. Problems and issues happen all the time, and it’s important to most consumers for their bank to respond in a timely manner. Once again, we turned to the CFPB database to analyze three key components of responsiveness – timeliness, response type, and consumer satisfaction. Larger banks had the edge in this category. They were more likely than smaller institutions to provide consumers with relief, such as a refund.
|Rank||Bank||% Disputed Resolutions||Responsiveness Score|
|Rank||Bank||% Disputed Resolutions||Responsiveness Score|
|46||People's United Bank||23%||111|
Most Complained About Banks by State
The complaint data from the CFPB allowed us to look at which institutions received the most issues per state. Keep in mind that, a lot of the time, this data may be skewed because of the massive presence of one of these companies in a given state. The complaints date back to December 2011, up through 2016.
|State||Company with Most Complaints||Total Complaints||Percent of All Complaints|
|Alaska||Wells Fargo & Company||107||32%|
|Alabama||Wells Fargo & Company||440||18%|
|Arkansas||Bank of America||235||21%|
|Arizona||Bank of America||1,492||23%|
|California||Bank of America||11,429||26%|
|Colorado||Wells Fargo & Company||855||18%|
|Connecticut||Bank of America||809||20%|
|D.C.||Bank of America||363||20%|
|Delaware||Bank of America||260||15%|
|Florida||Bank of America||6,768||24%|
|Georgia||Bank of America||3,168||25%|
|Hawaii||Bank of America||262||26%|
|Iowa||Wells Fargo & Company||255||23%|
|Idaho||Wells Fargo & Company||183||20%|
|Illinois||JPMorgan Chase & Co.||1,810||17%|
|Indiana||JPMorgan Chase & Co.||453||15%|
|Kansas||Bank of America||289||22%|
|Kentucky||Bank of America||267||14%|
|Louisiana||JPMorgan Chase & Co.||447||20%|
|Massachusetts||Bank of America||1,640||24%|
|Maryland||Bank of America||2,179||22%|
|Maine||Bank of America||249||22%|
|Michigan||Bank of America||1,712||22%|
|Minnesota||Wells Fargo & Company||887||23%|
|Missouri||Bank of America||799||22%|
|Mississippi||Bank of America||183||17%|
|Montana||Wells Fargo & Company||106||24%|
|North Carolina||Bank of America||1,863||21%|
|North Dakota||Wells Fargo & Company||50||22%|
|Nebraska||Wells Fargo & Company||222||23%|
|New Hampshire||Bank of America||474||28%|
|New Jersey||Wells Fargo & Company||2,561||19%|
|New Mexico||Bank of America||255||21%|
|Nevada||Bank of America||765||24%|
|New York||JPMorgan Chase & Co.||4,033||17%|
|Ohio||JPMorgan Chase & Co.||1,119||12%|
|Oklahoma||Bank of America||269||17%|
|Oregon||Bank of America||769||22%|
|Pennsylvania||Wells Fargo & Company||1,734||16%|
|Rhode Island||Bank of America||210||20%|
|South Carolina||Bank of America||608||20%|
|South Dakota||Wells Fargo & Company||89||22%|
|Tennessee||Bank of America||779||19%|
|Texas||Bank of America||3,128||19%|
|Utah||Wells Fargo & Company||279||19%|
|Virginia||Bank of America||1,825||20%|
|Vermont||Bank of America||96||16%|
|Washington||Bank of America||1,442||24%|
|Wisconsin||Bank of America||507||15%|
|West Virginia||JPMorgan Chase & Co.||115||17%|
|Wyoming||Wells Fargo & Company||50||20%|
For additional context to the data, we sought out experts to answer questions on topics such as banking violations and consumer protections.
Philip Mattera is the Director of the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First
1. Have we seen an increase or decrease in banking violations over the last few years? Over the past five years or so, there has been a tsunami of misconduct cases involving major banks. The cases with the biggest settlements and fines -- reaching billions of dollars for banks such as JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America -- involved the sale of toxic securities and mortgage abuses in the period leading up to the financial meltdown of 2008. The big banks have also paid billions to resolve cases concerning practices such as the manipulation of both interest rate benchmarks (especially LIBOR) and foreign exchange markets. We've also seen numerous cases involving credit card abuses and other consumer protection violations. The recently announced case against Wells Fargo for charging fees on accounts created without the customer's knowledge is the latest example.
2. Have there been any big changes to accountability or transparency within the U.S. banking system? The big difference is that the Justice Department and some of the regulatory agencies are willing to impose much bigger penalties than in the past. Also new is the aggressive role of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which in its five years of existence has brought a series of high-profile cases against both large and small financial violators. The unresolved question is whether these larger fines are having the intended deterrent effect or are regarded as a cost of doing business by financial institutions that go on breaking the rules.
3. How can people get involved with promoting greater transparency among banks? Customers who have experienced mistreatment by financial institutions should be sure to file complaints with agencies such as the CFPB, which makes it easy to do so on its website at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/. The bureau takes these complaints seriously in its enforcement activities. It is also important for the public to express support for the CFPB and other financial regulatory agencies to push back against industry efforts to weaken oversight.
Andrea Luquetta-Kern is the Director of Policy and Research at the California Reinvestment Coalition
1. Do consumers have the right to pursue legal action against banks, if they believe they've been wronged? If not, what can they do?
It depends, but mostly, no. Banks have included forced arbitration clauses to prevent their customers from joining together to sue them. However, the good news is that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is proposing rules that will likely eliminate bank's ability to use arbitration clauses with their customers. For right now, we'd recommend reaching out directly to your bank to address this issue, if that fails, a CFPB complaint can help spur action. If you still need redress, you could contact an attorney to confirm whether or not you're bound by an arbitration clause, or if there's a way to still pursue legal action.
2. Do you have any general tips for consumers about how they can improve their chances of resolving a conflict or proving their case to the bank/regulator?
We recommend keeping detailed notes and copies of your statements or documents related to the problem, as well as a log of who you spoke to at the bank (or regulator agency) and what their response was. Social media can also be an effective way to catch the attention of a company.
In terms of regulators, the CFPB has earned a reputation of being one of the most responsive to consumers. Noting the $11 billion in consumer relief the CFPB had obtained in its first four years, Professor Adam Levitin from Georgetown Law School explained:
"These recoveries are even more remarkable given that they include a period of time when the CFPB was still ramping up its staffing and finding its sea legs, and do not include pending actions. In contrast, all of the federal bank regulators combined—the Federal Reserve, FDIC, OCC, OTS, and NCUA—plus the Federal Trade Commission achieved less than a billion in consumer relief over the decade prior to the operation of the CFPB despite these agencies having the very same power as the CFPB to prohibit unsafe and deceptive acts and practices."
3. What are some telltale signs that a consumer's bank is taking advantage of them or engaging in predatory practices?
You should be wary if your bank is trying to sell you something other than what you asked for. If you're interested in a product they're suggesting, do some research, comparison shop, and come back later. You should never respond to hard sales tactics, no matter how good they sound, on the phone or in person. We also recommend checking the CFPB complaint database to see what other customers have experienced. You can filter by company and by product, so for example, you could look up Wells Fargo and bank accounts.
Read your statements regularly, review your transactions, and check for unexpected fees. You can also ask your bank how much you've paid in fees each year. Last, obtain your credit report for free here: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action You can also obtain reports from ChexSystems and Early Warning System.
Jim Angleton is the President of Aegis FinServ Corp
1. Do you think consumers who bank at small region and community banks have a better chance of avoiding predatory practices? Good question. Community banks under $1.5B do not have the talent or manpower to offer diverse programs/products and rely on 3rd party vendors to provide such services under a private label scenario. Larger Community Banks above $1.5B have difficulty with organic growth. Therefore they have multiple departments and are self sufficient. However, they use different measurement tools plus cost center analysis. This can get them into trouble, like [Wells Fargo], by offering small base pay and incentivized structures above certain thresholds of income expectations. The answer is yes, but it is qualified by the size of the institutions. Lastly, Bank Examiners and Regulators have thinned out and they are overwhelmed when conducting routine examinations. When complaints are the reason for examination...they come in as if guns blazing and ready to kick-butt.
2. How about large institutions? The bigger ones, to a certain point are very gamy. Regulators are cautious when writing up bigger banks and citing violations. They know once they issue their exit memorandum and citations for violation of regs, policy and procedures...they could be sued, challenged by official filing of complaint plus objection to findings. They actually are much harsher upon the smaller bank than the big ones.
We examined the top 50 retail banks in the United States as measured by their assets. We excluded corporate banks from our listing. The banks were obtained using iBanknet.com. We then scored each bank according to three separate metrics, which we break down below.
Complaints: We looked at over 600,000 complaints dating back to December 2011. They were logged against a number of financial products, including mortgages, credit reporting and bank accounts and services. For example, some banks did not properly credit a mortgage payment, charging consumers a late fee. The CFPB would then track several additional factors – whether the company responded in a timely manner, what the bank’s response was, and whether the company responded in a timely manner.
Regulatory Violations & Penalties: This category allowed us to keep track of how effective banks are at sticking to laws and regulations – most of which are aimed at protecting consumer rights. In our overall ranking, we considered penalties per asset, to control for the size of the institutions. Regulatory are sometimes decided on by scope. Therefore, a large institution violating a law may get fined more because more consumers were affected.
Responsiveness: Finally, it was important to factor in the effectiveness of each institution’s responses to consumer issues. We looked at three factors for this metric: were the responses to complaints timely? Did the institution provide relief to the consumer (either through a refund or a non-monetary compensation)? Did the consumer dispute the bank’s response to the issue? Most institutions responded to complaints in a timely manner 97-99% of the time. Because of this, we put less weight on this factor than the other two.