J.D. Power: Sales practices threaten customer satisfaction in banking industry

But trust in financial institutions at record high after crisis

Consumers are more satisfied with their financial institutions than ever before, but that trust could quickly erode in the wake of the Wells Fargo fake account scandal.

Retail bank, mortgage and financial services firms saw a five-year trend of consistently improving customer satisfaction, however perception of excessive sales pressure now threatens that trust, according to the J.D. Power Special Report: Customer Views on Sales Practices in Financial Services.

The special report is based on in-depth proprietary benchmark research, insights and analyses of more than 83,000 consumer responses and interviews derived from J.D. Power syndicated studies and a pulse survey focused on bank sales practices conducted in October 2016.

Since the financial crisis, customer satisfaction reached record highs, as seen by metrics that track customer loyalty, bank reputation and repeat usage. In fact, customer loyalty is so high that even after the Wells Fargo scandal, 82% of retail bank consumers say they trust their bank to do the right thing, compared to just 4% who said banks don’t act ethically.

However, among those who do not feel a strong sense of brand loyalty, the greatest challenge was the use of sales practices they perceive to be overly aggressive.

“In the wake of the Wells Fargo crisis, financial firms of every type have been taking a hard look at their sales practices and controls,” said Jim Miller, J.D. Power senior director of retail banking services. “For our part, we really wanted to see this issue through the customer’s eyes.”

“It may be surprising to some, but customers continue to put faith in their banks, as 79% of customers believe their bank acts in their best interest,” Miller said. “However, as we continued to dig deeper into the issue, it became clear that an intense sales culture at some banks may indeed be driving short-term growth, but it can erode loyalty and lead to a loss of future revenue.”

The sales pressure is most commonly seen through the consumer’s confusion at the point of sale. About 14% of retail bank customers say they have had accounts opened or funds transferred without their knowledge, while 12% say they were surprised by fees or charges they don’t remember being told about.

The confusion included situations such as credit cards being reissued, bank errors, simple misunderstandings, identity theft and accounts being opened or altered by the bank without the customer’s knowledge.

However there is still hope, according to J.D. Power’s survey. Banks can improve overall satisfaction by simply taking more time to understand their customers' specific needs.

“Banks must foster a customer-centered culture where they focus on meeting needs and providing relevant advice rather than just selling the next account,” Miller said.

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