Banking in the USA

When I was younger, I spent some time living and working in the USA, based in the area known as New England. This area encompasses the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

I got to know the area quite well, including their system of banking, which is very different from here in Britain. 

Unlike our country, in America the banking system is dominated by a vast number of tiny independent banks that only serve a small local community. In fact, there are an incredible 6,800 different banks in the USA, compared to only about 125 different banks in Britain (of which six of them dominate the entire banking market). 

While working in the USA, I had an account with the tiny ‘Indian Head’ bank in New Hampshire, which literally only had a few branches. They always seemed to be empty when I visited them. There were few customers, no queues, and the staff members all looked very cool in their jeans and T shirts (very different from the stuffy atmosphere in British banks where the staff wear formal uniforms and fake corporate smiles).

So you’d think that in the USA the customer service in banks would be much better than the appalling customer service we all seem to get here in Britain (see article dated 30.07.16 about Nat West). 

But you’d be wrong!!

I recently spotted an article (reproduced below) from a local newspaper in Massachusetts. It seems that bad customer service in banks is not just a British phenomenon, but is common in America as well.

Later this month I am going to write another article  on the subject of customer loyalty within banking, and the reasons why people are reluctant to change their banks, despite the appalling customer service they receive. 

But for now, here is the article from the Berkshire Eagle newspaper:


Customer service is one of those activities you don't really pay attention to unless you're directly affected by it. When it's done poorly, you notice. When it's done well you notice it, too.

Bad service can lead you to consider options like withdrawing all your accounts from a bank. But good service at a different branch of the same financial institution can make you reconsider.

My wife and I went through this recently when we had two separate experiences with customer service at two different branches of the same bank, which I'm not going to name.

Our bad experience occurred on the first visit when the personnel in the branch barely acknowledged us when we walked in, even though there were hardly any other customers. They also kept us waiting for a long time without explanation. Frustrated at the lack of service, we left.

We went to the bank around lunch time so there was only one teller on active duty. But the teller was counting money when we walked in. The teller didn't say anything right away, so we walked over to the window and were told someone would be with us in a few minutes. The teller went back to counting money.

We were told someone else would be needed to address our problem, so we took a seat. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Now, the person we were supposed to see was busy with someone else so we knew it wasn't going to be a short wait. But there was never any acknowledgment that we were there. The person actually left the office briefly, and kind of glanced at us, but said nothing, before going back in.

We both thought a "be right with you," or "sorry for the delay" from this person might have been nice. Even a smile or a nod would have been acceptable. Again, nothing.

By that time, a second teller had come on the scene, and gave us the wrong instructions on how to activate a new ATM card, which we didn't find out until later when we tried to use it.

We finally decided to leave. Driving home we contemplated moving our account to another bank. Our experience was that bad.

But our second experience at another branch (of the same bank) made us reconsider. In this visit, the employees were much more professional.

The people on the floor were friendly; they told us exactly who to see. This branch had more staffers, so our wait wasn't going to be as long as in the first office. But the person who helped us was knowledgeable and attentive, and gave us all the assistance we needed. We felt much better when we left. 

It made a difference. Both the good and bad service stood out, but we're going to go back to the places that helped us. If you think customer service doesn't matter, think again.

Tony Dobrowolski, Business Editor, The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, USA, 4th August 2016.