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Northwest Savings is No. 1 with customers

For the third straight year, Northwest Savings Bank has been ranked No. 1 regionally for customer satisfaction with retail banking by national ratings powerhouse J.D. Power & Associates.

The subsidiary of Warren, Pa.-based Northwest Bancshares earned the Westlake Village, Calif.-based firm's highest rating in its 2012 retail banking study for the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes banks in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

On a 1,000-point scale, Northwest scored an 823, followed by Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington National Bank with 801. DeWitt-based Community Bank System came in eighth, at 790, while Buffalo-based rivals First Niagara Financial Group and M&T Bank Corp. came in 17th and 19th, respectively. KeyCorp of Cleveland was 21st, just above the regional average, while Citizens Financial Group, HSBC Bank USA and Bank of America Corp. were below average.

Steven G. Fisher, executive vice president of banking services at the bank, called it "an amazing honor."

"It is both humbling and exhilarating," he said. "This award comes from the people we serve, the people who are the reason our company exists."

Besides the J.D. Power honor, the bank has also been recognized recently by the Wall Street firm Keefe Bruyette & Woods, which named it one of the 40 top-performing banks nationwide in the last 10 years, and by Forbes, which named it to its list of the 100 most-trustworthy companies based on the transparency of financial reporting and corporate governance.

"We are pleased with the significant recognition Northwest has received in 2012, and we thank our employees for their dedication and our customers for their support," said Northwest President and CEO William J. Wagner.

The seventh annual study, conducted in January and February, looked at the overall satisfaction customers report with their retail bank based on account activities, account information, facilities, fees, problem resolution and product offering. Results are based on responses from nearly 52,000 customers.

Overall, the study found that consumers are growing increasingly dissatisfied with fees but that banks can offset that with satisfaction in branch facilities, account activities and problem resolution.

So while satisfaction with fees fell to 609 from 625 a year ago and 656 in 2010, satisfaction with branches and ATMs rose to 779 from 771 last year and 765 in 2010. Satisfaction with the ease of ATM use in particular rose to 815 from 795 last year.

As a result, on a 1,000-point scale, overall customer satisfaction improved by one point this year to 753. Satisfaction with the nation's six largest banks and with banks under $33 billion in deposits rose slightly, while satisfaction with regional banks between $33 billion and $180 billion in deposits fell slightly.

"The negative reaction to fees reflects customers' irritation about paying for something they didn't have to pay for in the past," said Michael Beird, director of banking services at J.D. Power. "It also reflects a lack of their complete understanding about what they're getting for those fees."