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The Better Business Bureau is out with its latest list of top consumer complaint targets, and banks are moving up the charts like a Beyoncé single.

After cell phone providers and cable TV companies, banks are at the top of the list of offending industries — with consumer complaints about banks up 42% since 2008. Here’s a more detailed look at the BBB numbers.

Overall, the American consumer says he/she has increasingly been getting the shaft from U.S. businesses. Consumer complaints to the BBB rose 9.7% in 2009 — up to almost 1 million complaints overall. You’d think that in a period of great economic strife, companies would double-down on improving customer service efforts. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“Amidst the housing crisis, high unemployment rate and the chaos on Wall Street, the last year has not been easy on consumers and the increase in complaints to BBB reflect this troubled economy,” says Stephen A. Cox, President and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Here’s a quick glance at the number of complaints by industry, with banks right near the top of the list:

Industry         Complaints   % Rise (From ’08)

Cell Phones       37,477              2.1%

Cable TV            32,616              8.7%

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Banks                29,920              42.3%

Automakers       26,888              -2.4%

Internet Retail   21,494              9.4%

As the data shows, it’s the rate at which customers are howling about bad experiences that should concern the banking industry — but it hasn’t so far. “For the second year in a row, banks experienced a significant increase in complaints coinciding with 140 bank failures in 2009,” adds Cox. “Trust in the financial sector is already extremely low and the dramatic increase in BBB complaints against banks reflects the growing discord between consumers and the industry.”

But it seems that it’s the bigger banks that have reason to worry. In another survey, this one by the University of Michigan, Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (Stock Quote: JPM) ranked last among the nation’s four biggest banks in an annual survey of customer satisfaction. The survey, released Feb. 16, talked to 250 bank customers to get its results.

One reason why big banks may have trouble with customer service is that some of them have bitten off more than they can chew. With industry takeovers of major lenders like Washington Mutual and Wachovia, banks have more customers and fewer resources to accommodate their needs.

If that’s the case, larger banks better beef up their customer service efforts fast — before customers decide that the credit union down the street will treat them, and their money, with greater care.

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