Why customers are unhappy with their banks

People have grown unhappier with their banks over the last year, and even smaller banks are feeling customers' wrath, according to a report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

The growing dissatisfaction comes as banks across the country roll out new fees. In addition to the traditional charges for overdrafts, nonsufficient funds and minimum balances, banks are introducing new fines designed to generate additional revenue from customers.

They're also broadly raising fees. Average checking account charges hit new highs in 2014, according to MoneyRates. The average minimum balance required to waive the monthly maintenance fee, for example, is now $5,440.

Americans actually had been feeling better about banks before this year. The average customer happiness with banks was on a two-year rise. But higher fees and higher customer dissatisfaction go hand in hand. The typical checking account can now get hit with nearly three dozen potential fees, according to the ACSI.

So now, that two-year happiness uptrend has been reversed. Banking customer satisfaction fell 2.6 percent to 76 on the index. And it wasn't just the "too-big-to-fail" banks getting black marks, either. Smaller banks, which typically get higher customer service ratings, are also launching more fees and saw the largest drop in customer satisfaction, falling 4 percent to 80 on the index.

Among the largest banks, customers are least satisfied with Bank of America (BAC), giving the institution a score of 69 out of 100. BofA is the only large bank that hasn't reached its prerecession level of customer satisfaction.

Wells Fargo (WFC) came out second-worst on the list, with a score of 72. Citigroup (C) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) tied for third with a score of 74. Of those three large banks, only JPMorgan Chase saw its rating change, and not for the better. Its score fell by 3 percent.

Credit unions have historically enjoyed some of the highest customer marks in the industry, and that held true this year. They don't have as many fees and are likely to offer free checking to most of their customers -- not just the wealthy ones. Credit unions scored an 85 on the satisfaction index, which was unchanged from 2013.

"A growing number of consumers are finding that the best way to avoid bank fees may be to avoid banks altogether," said Claes Fornell, ASCI chairman, in a statement announcing the survey results. "Banks can't easily give up the revenue that fees generate, but clearly the pressure is on to improve service."

  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.