The big four fared about the same as they did for overall satisfaction when respondents rated their customer service and weighed in on penalty and account keeping fees
for transaction accounts, the product area we looked at most closely.
- ING Direct, ME Bank and CUA were standout customer favourites when it came to account-keeping fees, while bankmecu and Bendigo took top honours for customer service.
- ING Direct had the highest satisfaction score for transaction accounts, with a very impressive 97%, closely followed by TCU with 96%.
- None of the big four scored above 61%, and all ranked near the bottom for the criterion our members consider the most important for satisfaction with their transaction accounts – customer service.
- The big four banks were significantly more likely to be seen as charging high or excessive account-keeping and penalty fees than the other institutions we asked about, with Westpac, ANZ and CBA leading the way for excessive penalty fees.
- NAB was the exception on penalty fees, with respondents rating them as “reasonable” rather than high or excessive (although almost twice as many said Bendigo’s penalty fees were reasonable).
For most survey participants, the relationship with Australia’s biggest banks has been a rocky one. But it’s a relationship that about nine out of 10 who have an account with one of the big four say they’re likely to continue, even as their loyalty is constantly put to the test.
For some, however, loyalty has its limits. Those who’ve left their bank and other institutions have mainly done so due to high fees and because they felt their loyalty was not being rewarded.
So why aren’t more customers who have stuck with the majors looking for a little more appreciation?
Our Better Banking report spelled out the main reasons customers don’t take their business elsewhere regardless of whether they’re satisfied.
These reasons still hold sway for transaction account holders who took our survey. The number one rationale for survey participants staying put is that there’s “no point” in going to another bank, since it’s unlikely to offer anything better. But some banks charge more fees than others, and some offer better interest rates.
The survey results underscore this point, as do our CHOICE Awards reviews (see CHOICE, April 2011) of low-fee transaction and high-interest online savings accounts. A surprising number of survey respondents (23%) said they were unaware of how their transaction account penalty fees compare with those of other institutions – all the more reason to take a closer look and make sure you’re getting a square deal.
As we reported last year, the RBA issued a major correction after reporting that deposit account penalty fees had dropped from $516 million in 2008 to $476 million in 2009.
Fees actually dropped from $701 million to $688 million over that period. In 2010 deposit account penalty fees dropped $293 million, and the RBA has reported that all types of household banking fees had significantly declined as of mid-year.
Going fee-free appears to have paid off in spades for NAB, our 2011 CHOICE Award winner for Best Low-fee Bank Account. NAB began the fee-free revolution in 2009, yet recently posted its biggest profit – $5.5 billion for the 12 months to September this year.
CEO Cameron Clyne has said the windfall can largely be attributed to the bank’s increased consumer focus in personal banking, but this seems to be spin given NAB came dead last in this survey for customer service related to transaction accounts.
The way forward
We can also report that what many perceive as the other two main barriers to switching – too much time and effort and the hassle of changing automatic debit or credit arrangements – are far from insurmountable, according to many survey respondents who’ve made the switch.
While one member who switched from ANZ to Bendigo reported that “ANZ does not make closing accounts easy” and others said the process was tedious, time consuming and/or inconvenient, about half of respondents weighing in on the switching question said it was easy, very easy, “super” easy or “extremely” easy.
Switching is still not at as easy as it should be. Our call for portable account numbers - among other changes - has yet to become a reality, and industry stakeholders have thrown up smokescreens, such as contending that an overhaul of the electronic infrastructure is beyond the industry’s financial reach.
However, there have been some promising developments. From July next year, banks will have to take new steps to facilitate switching under the government’s “tick and flick” initiative.
CHOICE is working with government to iron out the details, including a single switching form provided by customers that banks will use to re-route direct debits and credits and other pre-existing arrangements.
Consumers also came away with a big win from the government’s inquiry into competition in the banking sector – a ban on exit fees for home loans established after July this year.
This may explain why just over half of our survey respondents with a mortgage have theirs with the big four compared with 80% of the general population.
About one in five CHOICE members who participated in the survey bank with credit unions – mainly CUA. Relationships with credit unions among members have been as long-term as those with the big four, with more than three-quarters sticking it out for 10 years or longer.
The sector as a whole, including building societies, got significantly higher overall satisfaction ratings than the banks, with TCU doing particularly well (scoring high marks in our key transaction account categories of customer service, availability of ATMs, internet and phone banking facilities, security of money and fees, only falling short for availability of branches).
Only 62% of respondents gave an overall rating of very good or excellent for banks, compared with 89% for non-banks.