Free ATMs, open late, no fees and more…

Are you frustrated with your bank? Bottom Line/Personal asked J.D. Power and Associates consumer research executives Jeff Taylor and Rockwell Clancy to identify the factors that have the biggest effect on customer satisfaction, as well as the banks and savings-and-loan associations that do the best job of meeting customers’ expectations…

WAIT TIMES

The longer that customers must wait to speak with a teller, the less satisfied they tend to be with the institution. Line length is the single best predictor of customer satisfaction.

Banks that tend to have short wait times include…

  • Arvest Bank, with more than 200 branches in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. 888-271-1400, www.arvest.com.
  • Bank of the West, with more than 700 branches in 19 western and midwestern states. 800-488-2265, www.bankofthewest.com.
  • First Tennessee Bank, with about 200 branches in and around Tennessee. 800-382-5465, www.firsttennessee.com.
  • Harris National, with 200 branches mostly in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. 888-340-2265, www.harrisbank.com.
  • Huntington National Bank, with more than 600 branches in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. 800-480-2265, www.huntington.com.
  • Manufacturers & Traders Bank, with more than 700 branches in the Mid-Atlantic states. 800-724-2440, www.mandtbank.com.
  • PNC Bank, with nearly 1,100 branches in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. 888-762-2265, www.pnc.com.
  • TD Banknorth,* with more than 600 US branches in New England, as well as in the northern Mid-Atlantic region. 800-428-7000, www.tdbanknorth.com.
  • US Bank, the sixth-largest US bank, with more than 2,500 branches in 24 states, mainly in the West, Southwest and Central regions. 800-872-2657, www.usbank.com.
  • Important: Wait times can vary dramatically from branch to branch, even within the same bank chain. Before opening an account with any bank, drop by the branches that you are most likely to visit at the times of day that you are most likely to visit them and observe the length and speed of the lines.

    NIGHT AND WEEKEND HOURS

    In addition to convenient locations, customers are much more likely to express satisfaction with banks that are open late into the evening and/or have extensive weekend hours. Examples…

  • Commerce Bank, with 450 branches in the Northeast, greater Washington, DC, area and Florida. They are open seven days, with evening hours on certain weekdays. 888-751-9000, www.commercebank.com.
  • TCF National Bank, with more than 450 branches in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Branches are generally open 12 hours a day, seven days a week. 800-823-2265, www.tcfexpress.com.
  • Woodforest National Bank, with about 550 branches, most of which are open every day of the year except Christmas, typically 8 am to 8 pm Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 pm on Sunday. A small number of its Texas branches are open and staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 877-968-7962, www.woodforest.com.
  • ATM AVAILABILITY

    Access to conveniently located fee-free automatic teller machines (ATMs) is an important factor affecting customer satisfaction. Some banks have expanded their ATM networks by placing ATMs in stores.

    Also, some regional banks have agreements with other bank chains to allow shared access to ATMs… and a few small banks even agree to cover any foreign ATM fees that its customers incur.

    Banks that score well for ATM convenience include…

  • Capital One, with nearly 750 branches and 1,300 ATMs in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Texas and Louisiana. 800-562-1340, www.capitalone.com.
  • Chase Bank, the third-largest US bank, with more than 9,000 ATMs nationwide, including free access to ATMs at many Walgreens stores. 877-682-4273, www.chase.com.
  • Chevy Chase Bank, with more than 1,000 ATMs and more than 250 branches in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. 800-987-2265, www.chevychasebank.com.
  • Citibank, the second-largest US bank, with more than 1,000 US branches and fee-free access to 21,000 ATMs, including ATMs in 5,500 7-Eleven convenience stores. 800-374-9700, www.citi.com.
  • ON-LINE TRANSACTIONS

    Many bank customers now use the Internet to perform basic banking transactions, such as checking their balances.

    Some banks, including Citibank, even provide cell-phone text-message alerts — for example, when an account balance falls below a certain level. Customers who take advantage of these high-tech services typically report higher levels of satisfaction.

    Banks that score well in on-line satisfaction include…

  • Bank of America, the nation’s largest bank, with more than 6,100 branches. 800-432-1000, www.bankofamerica.com.
  • Chase Bank. (See “ATM Availability.”)
  • Citibank. (See “ATM Availability.”)
  • Washington Mutual, one of the largest US savings-and-loan associations, which has more than 2,200 branches, mostly in the West and the greater New York area. 800-788-7000, www.wamu.com.
  • Important: Consider bank branch locations and hours even if you intend to do your banking on-line. Bank customers who use the on-line banking services of their traditional brick-and-mortar banks actually tend to visit bank branches in person more, not less, than other bank customers, probably because these customers tend to be more financially active than most.

    FEES

    Most customers grudgingly accept fees that result from their own actions, such as for bouncing a check, even if they often think that these fees are too high. What really makes bank customers angry is when fees are imposed even though they have not taken a specific action to trigger them, especially if this “inaction” broke a rule that the customer was not even aware of.

    These fees include account maintenance fees imposed because an account balance has drifted below some minimum balance and account inactivity fees imposed because the account has not been used recently.

    Ask about such fees before signing up for an account. If you suspect that you eventually will run afoul of these rules, it probably would be wise to select a different kind of account or a different bank with a more forgiving fee structure.

    “Free” check warning: Do not assume that “free” checking is truly free. Such accounts tend to be laden with hidden fees, such as fees for use of the debit card that comes with the account or monthly fees that appear if a direct-deposit arrangement ends.

    Banks whose customers are most satisfied with fee policies include…

  • Arvest Bank. (See “Wait Times.”)
  • Bank of the West. (See “Wait Times.”)
  • Capital One. (See “ATM Availability.”)
  • Citibank. (See “ATM Availability.”)
  • First National Bank of Pennsylvania, with more than 150 branches in Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio. 800-555-5455, www.fnb-online.com.
  • HSBC Bank, which has nearly 450 branches in the US, mainly in New York. 800-975-4722, www.us.hsbc.com.
  • Washington Mutual. (See “On-Line Transactions.”)
  • PROBLEM RESOLUTION

    Bank customers usually are willing to forgive a bank for occasional disputes — if the bank seems willing to work with them to find a solution.

    Banks that generally do a relatively good job of resolving problems to customers’ satisfaction include Bank of AmericaCitibank… and Washington Mutual.

    *TD Banknorth and Commerce Bank (Bancorp) recently merged. The effect of this merger upon their standings in the bank satisfaction scores is not yet apparent.