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Four area banks appear on consumer complaints list

It's not the kind of list any bank wants to appear on: the most consumer complaints lodged with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Four banks with a local branch presence were among the 49 banks on a list by compiled by LendEDU, based on the federal agency's publicly accessible database of complaints for 2017.

Citizens Bank was third on the list, while KeyBank placed ninth. Bank of America was 10th, while M&T Bank ranked 14th.

LendEDU used the S&P Banks Select Industry Index to compile its list of banks, said Michael Brown, a research analyst. LendEDU, which is a marketplace for financial products including private student loans, wonders if this will be the last time it will even be able to create an annual list, based on swirling political winds in Washington, D.C.

When consumers complain to the CFPB about a bank, the agency forwards the complaints to the company in question. That company has 15 days to respond. At that point — or once a company responds, whichever comes first — the complaints are added to the online database, with consumers' personal details removed. The agency says 97 percent of complaints it forwards to companies get "timely" responses.

The top complaints to the CFPB about all types of financial products centered on issues including mortgages, debt collection and credit reporting, Brown said.

Citizens Bank ranked No. 3 on the list, based on its 6.91 complaints per billion dollars in deposits, up from No. 8 the year before. Citizens' complaint rate fell from the year before, when it was 7.04. Its 782 total complaints increased 2.2 percent from 2016. (Rating the banks' number of complaints based on their amount of deposits puts the number of complaints into context based on the banks' relative size.)

Frank Quaratiello, a Citizens spokesman, said the CFPB database "is one key data source among others which we monitor through various channels.

"We sincerely value customer feedback received through all channels and take it as an opportunity to improve our business as part of our normal operating routines," he said.

KeyBank ranked ninth on the list, based on 6.48 complaints per billion. A year earlier, Key was 18th, with a rate of 3.99 per billion.

Matt Pitts, a KeyBank spokesman, called it "a slight, temporary increase" following Key's August 2016 acquisition of First Niagara Bank, which brought 1 million in clients and millions of dollars in additional deposits to Key.

Agency data showed the number of client complaints about Key dropped 27 percent from the first quarter of last year to the third quarter, he said.

"While we are pleased to see fewer client complaints, we always strive to do more to exceed our clients' expectations with tools and insight to help clients make confident financial decisions," he said.

Bank of America's complaints per billion in deposits dropped to 6.28, ranking 10th. But its total number of complaints, 8,069, was second only to Wells Fargo's.

M&T Bank ranked 14th with 5.5 complaints per billion, which was down from 6.2 complaints per billion a year earlier. The actual number of complaints registered with the CFPB about M&T dropped 18 percent, to 514.

"The fact that M&T is credited with providing a timely response to all of the CFPB complaints issued over the last two years, as well as experiencing a decrease in the number of complaints received year over year, underscores our commitment to being responsive to customer concerns," said David Lanzillo, an M&T spokesman.

Brown said the public database allows consumers to read about problems or disputes similar to their own — and possibly motivate them to lodge their own complaints, if they realize their experience is not unique.

"It probably does have some sort of impact on (banks') customer satisfaction process, knowing all this information can be online and accessed with a few clicks," he said.

Community Banking System showed up on a separate list compiled by LendEDU: no complaints registered with the CFPB last year. A total of 13 banks made that list.

This was LendEDU's second annual consumer complaints list. The new edition was released at a time when the CFPB itself has made news.

Late last year, the CFPB was caught up in a leadership struggle over who should serve as acting director. President Trump's choice, Mick Mulvaney, prevailed. Mulvaney was a critic of the agency before he was named to lead it.

Some media reports have speculated whether the database that LendEDU draws from will cease being made public. Under the current format, anyone can look up complaints lodged against any bank on the CFPB's website.

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