BofA ‘Should Be Worried’ as Clients Mull Leaving, Poll Shows

Bank of America Corp. retail customers are the least satisfied among clients of the biggest U.S. lenders and the most likely to defect to competitors, according to a Harris Interactive poll.

Nine percent of people with Bank of America accounts were “not at all likely” to continue to use the Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender, the survey, scheduled to be released today, shows. That is triple the rate of JPMorgan Chase & Co. customers and 50 percent more than Wells Fargo & Co.

Bank of America, the second-biggest U.S. lender by deposits, angered some customers when it announced plans to charge $5 a month for debit-card use. The firm dropped the fee this week after JPMorgan, the biggest bank, and No. 3 Wells Fargo abandoned the tactic. Other new fees, including those for checking accounts, may push clients to credit unions, said Carol Gstalder, an executive vice president at Harris Interactive.

“Our data says that banks absolutely should be worried,” Gstalder said yesterday in an interview. “People know banks are looking for new ways to make up the revenue gap. This may be the start of a tipping point where long term, we may see numbers of people making a move.”

The results highlight challenges that lenders, especially Bank of America, face in retaining customers. Ten percent of the firm’s clients surveyed were “not at all satisfied,” compared with 2 percent for JPMorgan and 7 percent for Wells Fargo. When asked how valued they felt, 42 percent rated Bank of America as “fair” or “poor,” compared with 30 percent for both JPMorgan and Wells Fargo.

‘Values and Ethics’

Anne Pace, a Bank of America spokeswoman, declined to comment. Richele Messick of San Francisco-based Wells Fargo and JPMorgan’s Kristin Lemkau didn’t reply to e-mail messages seeking comment on the poll results.

Bank of America Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan, who took over last year, has said the bank’s approach must be grounded in “values and ethics” when dealing with clients.

“The best decisions are the ones that go beyond our own narrow self-interest,” Moynihan, 52, said at a prayer breakfast in Atlanta last month, according to remarks posted on the company’s website. “We have to be responsible for the full effects of our decisions and the influence they have on people, the economy and society.”

Credit Unions

At least 650,000 people joined credit unions since the Sept. 29 Bank of America announcement on debit fees, the Credit Union National Association said today in a statement. That equals the new membership figure for all of last year, said Patrick Keefe, a spokesman for the Washington-based trade group. The lenders took in $4.5 billion in new savings accounts in the past five weeks, the group said.

Credit unions, which are not-for-profit and owned by members, had the best scores in the Harris survey, with no respondents saying they were highly dissatisfied. More than 70 percent of credit union users were highly satisfied, compared with 27 percent for Bank of America, 31 percent for JPMorgan and 34 percent for Wells Fargo.

Consumers have dubbed Nov. 5 “Bank Transfer Day,” an effort among users of social media to move deposits to credit unions. Online conversations about banking surged last month after the Bank of America announcement on debit fees, Gstalder said. Harris Interactive tracked respondents’ Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. usage, she said.

Harris Interactive, a market research and polling firm based in New York, queried 2,463 adults online between Oct. 10 and 17. The poll was the first by Harris that asked respondents about specific banks, Gstalder said. The company said it couldn’t estimate an error margin for the survey.