Which will serve you better -- a big national financial services firm or a smaller, perhaps local, one? Many Americans believe they get more attention at smaller companies, like those run by the proverbial mom and pop. Many see huge corporations as ruthless and heartless. Two recent surveys about the banking scene come to intriguingly different conclusions.
For starters, there's a poll taken by Forrester Research, which reported that:
- The organization with the highest percentage of customers reporting satisfaction was member-owned USAA, which serves the military.
- Also scoring well were credit unions, Edward Jones, and GEICO -- a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway
(NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B). (Learn more about the fascinating Berkshire Hathaway on our discussion board, and check out this interesting article on Edward Jones.)
- Those near the bottom of the ranking include many big banking enterprises, such as E*Trade
(NYSE:ET), Citigroup's (NYSE:C)Citibank, FleetBoston (now part of Bank of America (NYSE:BAC)), and JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM).
- The firms with the highest scores were growing faster than their industry average.
Meanwhile, Consumer Reports Money Advisor is reporting that the banks that serve customers best in terms of checking-account costs, electronic-banking offerings, penalty fees, the number of states operated in, and the number of branches, are mainly the "behemoth banks."
The 10 largest behemoths serve nearly a third of American depositors, and they're more likely than smaller competitors to offer features such as free checking and more ATMs.
A Consumer Reports editor noted that "41% of bank customers don't pay anything at all for their accounts, and larger banks may offer free online banking and bill payment as well." The magazine looked at the 10 largest American banks and ranked them on convenience and fees. Here's how they stacked up, from the most highly rated on down:
Bank of America
World Savings Bank (part of Golden West Financial
Wells Fargo Bank
Bank One (being acquired by JP Morgan Chase)
JP Morgan Chase
Don't let these conflicting reports confuse you. Life is full of contradictions. (I actually wrote about contradictions in investing long ago.) The bottom line for your banking might be to have several accounts at several banks, brokerages, or credit unions, so you can tap the desirable interest rates of one, the low fees of another, and the services you need from yet another. Remember that some brokerages these days are also banks, or at least bank-like. Some offer checking accounts, for example.
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway.