The Worst Banks in America (Wells Fargo Isn’t Even No. 1)
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The Worst Banks in America (Wells Fargo Isn’t Even No. 1)

Wells Fargo was just slapped with the biggest fine in the history of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after employees routinely opened unauthorized accounts for existing customers. But that still doesn’t make it the worst bank in the country, at least according to a new analysis of retail banks.

Factoring in complaints, penalties and responsiveness to customer problems, the worst bank is Bank of America, according to a report from consumer finance site ValuePenguin. B of A ranked No. 34 out of 50 in responsiveness, No. 44 in number of complaints per $100 million in assets, and No. 48 in the number and size of regulatory penalties it has received. Bank of America did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Over the past five years or so, there has been a tsunami of misconduct cases involving major banks,” said Philip Mattera, the director of the corporate research project at Good Jobs First, in the report. “The recently announced case against Wells Fargo for charging fees on accounts created without the customer's knowledge is the latest example.”

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Wells Fargo came in fifth among the 50 largest retail banks by asset size. Below is a chart that shows how the worst five shake out, with 1 being the best rank in a category and 50 being the worst:

Bank Responsiveness Rank Complaints Rank Regulatory Penalties Rank
Bank of America 34 44 48
Barclays PLC 2 49 50
HSBC North America Holdings Inc. 47 38 47
EverBank 38 45 37
Wells Fargo & Company 41 42 41

The five best banks in the analysis are mostly regional banks: Frost Bank in Texas, East West Bank in California, Umpqua Holdings Corp. (branches in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Idaho), Union Bank (with offices nationwide) and New York Community Bank. The report used more than 600,000 complaints dating back to December 2011 from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to create the complaints and responsiveness rankings. It used the corporate violation database from Good Jobs First to create its regulatory penalties ranking.

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ValuePenguin included complaints related to any financial product offered by the bank, such as credit cards, checking accounts and mortgages. These complaints are filed only after the customer has unsuccessfully tried to contact the bank to resolve a problem. The worst complaint offenders are below:

Bank Complaints Per $100 Million in Assets Total Complaints
Synchrony Bank 12.9 10,665
Barclays 10.8 3,216
Discover 6.1 5,365
Capital One 5.1 17,177
Santander 3.6 4,524

The responsiveness ranking weighed timeliness, response type and consumer satisfaction. Overall, larger banks were more likely to offer refunds or other relief to customers. The worst banks regarding responsiveness are below:

Bank % Disputed Resolutions Responsiveness Score
CIT Bank 24% 133
Whitney Bank 27% 132
E*Trade 25% 122
HSBC 23% 120
People's United Bank 23% 111

The regulatory ranking includes fines, settlements and other penalties the banks paid for issues such as mortgage abuse, credit card violations, toxic securities and other practices the government considers illegal. The worst five are below:

Bank Total Penalties Penalties Per Asset
Barclays $3,371 M 114
Rabobank $800 M 32
Bank of America $56,690 M 26
HSBC $4,034 M 14
First Tennessee Bank $332 M 12

Americans who have a problem with their bank should first try to resolve it with the institution itself by going to a local branch or calling customer service. Keep detailed notes and copies of any statements or documents related to your issue and record the name of who you spoke to and their response, says Andrea Luquetta-Kern, the director of policy and research at the California Reinvestment Coalition. “Social media can also be an effective way to catch the attention of a company,” she said.

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If that doesn’t work, file an online complaint with the CFPB or call 855-411-2372 to submit a complaint over the phone. The bureau has handled more than 900,000 complaints from consumers so far and says 97 percent of consumers get timely replies after submitting a complaint.

Overall, the bureau has recovered $11.4 billion in relief through enforcement actions such as the latest one against Wells Fargo, helping more than 25 million consumers in the process.

“The unresolved question is whether these larger fines are having the intended deterrent effect,” Mattera said, “or are regarded as a cost of doing business by financial institutions that go on breaking the rules.”