As editor of, editor Claire Tak has had the opportunity to read literally thousands of bank reviews over the years that customers have posted on the MyBankTracker website.

In that time, she has noticed recurrent themes and trends that have drawn the ire and praise of customers.

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Because of Ms. Tak’s position, she is uniquely qualified to share her observations about the current status of customer/bank relationships — the ones that work and the ones that fail.

We believe the following interview will be useful to both those readers who are in the process of deciding what bank to open a first account with and those who are looking to end a current banking relationship in search of a better one.

– First off, how much stock do you put in customer reviews? What can people learn from them?

This is the age of reviews. From my next meal at a restaurant to an Amazon purchase, I read reviews from real people to make sure I’m getting the best deal, best quality, best everything. Customer reviews are the bread and butter to a large chunk of businesses, including banks and financial institutions. Customers want to know about negative or positive experiences so they can make informed decisions.

Reviews sort of work like that old adage: “If one person tells you you’re a horse, they’re crazy. If three people tell you you’re a horse, there’s a conspiracy afoot. But if 10 people tell you you’re a horse, it’s time to buy a saddle.” Well, reviews work the same way. You can’t rely on just one, it might raise your curiosity, but that’s about it. But if you read 10 reviews that pretty much say the same thing, that should establish some kind of pattern or baseline that can help you make a smarter, more informed decision.

– What do you think banks can learn from customer reviews? Do you think they even care? For instance, we sometimes hear about a drive-through fast food restaurant that promises to deliver a customer’s order in under five minutes, if not, the customer gets the meal for free. Would a bank, accused of slow service, consider doing something about it, maybe adding $5 to your account if you’re not served in 10 minutes?

I think after the housing bubble in 2008, banks really got a bad rap. I think now that after almost seven years have gone by, the landscape of banking has shifted back to what the everyday consumer wants. Think about it, you can now take to Twitter or Facebook and complain to your bank and get a response almost instantly. But, back to your question, I do think banks are listening and take all online engagement very seriously. The most proactive and responsive banks will take the criticism, unfair or not, and use it to constantly refine and improve their products.

While I think the fast-food restaurant idea is not a bad one, banks probably won’t offer the customer any money for slow service.

– From all the bank reviews you’ve read, what are the biggest areas of complaint? Of praise?

The number one complaint that I’ve read about has to do with customer service. They express their dissatisfaction in myriad ways and can get quite creative in their responses. You’d be amazed at all the synonyms there are for “bad.” People get real passionate about the service they expect and the service they feel they’re currently receiving.

Our bank reviews are proof that many bank customers won’t sit still when they feel they’ve been mistreated. Lots of long-time bank customers actually do step into their branches to talk to a bank rep. A lot of times, the conversation has to do with fees and the bank manager’s inability to remove the fees, or how the bank doesn’t meet expectations in terms of trying to help the customer.

When it comes to praise and customer satisfaction, people seem to really like fast service and convenience. Banks also get high marks when the customer perceives the financial institution will go the extra mile to fix a problem.

– Why do you think these same issues/areas of contention continue to arise?

We live in the attention deficit disorder era. Everybody wants information to fit in a tweet or a thimble, but some concepts, especially in the financial arena, don’t easily lend themselves to easy, bite-sized answers or descriptions. Just look at the mortgage world, you have terms like balloon payment, adjustable rate mortgage, escrow and so on. That’s why you have sites like MyBankTracker to help explain how various banking products and services work. It’s an ongoing challenge.

At the same time, customers have to take responsibility to make themselves better informed. If your banker hands you a brochure, you should probably read it. Besides lawyers, no sane person wants to read the fine print, we get that, but at some point, customers can’t always blame a fee or unexpected charge on grounds they didn’t know something or that they weren’t properly informed. When you sign your name to something, you’re taking responsibility.

– What do you think banks do really well? What do they do poorly?

I think banks have been making more of an effort to keep up with the digital times — i.e. online banking, smartphone check deposits. I think banks do a poor job of listening to customers and trying to meet them halfway. A lot of the angrier reviews had to do with a rude manager who wouldn’t really take the time to listen to the customer.

– In this age of instant gratification and little patience, do you think people expect too much from their banks?

I don’t think people expect too much from their banks. The customer service landscape has changed and has shifted to what the customer wants. Banks need to keep up.

– Obviously, you’re a bank customer, and you’ve certainly been exposed to what most irks customers. Thus, what kinds of questions would you ask your prospective bank before giving it your business?

These aren’t exactly questions I’d ask a bank rep, I mean, I could, but I think I can get these questions answered myself by doing some research.

1. For the type of checking account I have, what are all of the fees involved and how much does it cost?

2. How can I avoid these fees?

3. Does this bank have an up-to-date online site that’s easy and convenient to navigate?

4. What about the bank’s smartphone app? (How updated is their mobile platform?)

5. How many branches are near my home/office?

– It’s easy to blame your bank when something goes wrong: Your account is overdrawn, your bank turns you down for a loan, naturally you’re going to be a little ticked or miffed, but aren’t there times when customers bear some of the responsibilities for these breakdowns?

Yes, that’s absolutely correct. Many customers simply don’t read the fine print and don’t completely understand what they are signing up for, be it a mortgage, personal loan, credit card, etc., and freak out when they are charged a fee for something that they should’ve already been aware of in the first place. The customer is not always right… sometimes the customer doesn’t read the fine print and then gets upset later when they are slapped with a fee.

– Besides reading bank reviews, where else should be people turn to get information about a particular bank they’re thinking about opening an account with? In person, online?

I would say the second resource would be the bank’s website, and then customer service via online chat or phone. If you live near a bank, it wouldn’t hurt to stop by and talk to someone face to face, but who has time for that?

– Lastly, survey after survey shows that while many customers complain about their banks, few of them actually change banks. What’s holding them back?

First, banks are working all the time to become more responsive. Competition is healthy among banks, so none of them wants to be left behind. At the same time, this arms race is providing consumers with more choices. They can hop online and in seconds go rate shopping around the country. Geography is no longer a barrier.

So if they truly believe they are being taken for granted by their current bank, they have options. They can and should look for better situations for their money and accounts. People clearly have more financial choices than ever before.

Despite these choices, a lot of people are just plain lazy. It’s easier for them to do nothing. They have their lives linked to their bank accounts, i.e. bill pay, mortgage payments, kids’ accounts, savings, everything. Changing banks would mean they’d have to switch everything over. There are switch kits that banks offer that can make this process a bit easier, but no matter what, it’s still somewhat of a hassle for the customer.

But for those who really want to get the most for their money and the best value from their banking experience, I would recommend opening a free checking account from an online only bank, like Ally Bank or Capital One 360, and link bills and other payments to that account. That way, if someone decides to switch to another big bank, say from Bank of America to Wells Fargo, they won’t have to scramble to get their bills in order.

Again, choices are available. But it’s up to each individual to make them.

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