- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

Small banks get high marks from customers in a recently published survey by a local consumer group.
The results reinforce the idea that community institutions have closer contact with customers, bank representatives said.
The survey was conducted in 1998 and the results were reported earlier this month by Washington Consumers' Checkbook, a nonprofit biannual publication that evaluates various types of local service firms and retailers.
Burke & Herbert Bank & Trust of Alexandria and Virginia Commerce Bank of Arlington scored highest, with 91 percent of customers surveyed rating overall service "superior."
National Capital Bank of Washington followed close behind with a 90 percent approval rating. Like Burke & Herbert, the D.C. bank is over 100 years old.
"When people come in the door with a request, we try to help them or steer them in the right direction," said E. Hunt Burke, vice chairman of Burke & Herbert. "When people come in the big banks with a problem, they walk out with the problem still in their hands," he added.
The largest banks on the survey Bank of America, Crestar (now SunTrust), First Union and Riggs National Bank came in with lowest ratings.
Bank of America spokesman Scott Krugman said the Charlotte, N.C.-based institution is committed to its customers and he found the survey troubling. Twenty-six percent of customers queried found the bank's overall service superior.
"There's a clear misconception that big is bad," Mr. Krugman said.
"We understand that [consumers] have a lot of options and ignoring customer service would be corporate suicide for anyone," he said.
The banking giant's assets are $656 billion, to Burke & Herbert's $700 million.
First Union scored lowest overall in the survey, with a 20 percent approval rating.
"We have acknowledged that we had some customer service issues a little over a year ago," said bank spokeswoman Mary Eshet.
But according to polls the company commissioned from Gallup, customer satisfaction ratings have risen following a concerted effort to improve service, she said.
Results for the Checkbook list were taken from a survey of subscribers to the publication or Consumer Reports. So some of the banks that earned the highest ratings had a low number of responses because of their size.
Credit unions were also rated and the top scorer was APL Federal Credit Union, with a 100 percent approval rating. Members of the credit union, located in Laurel, are employees of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America and a Checkbook board member, said small banks' performance on the survey was not surprising.
"That's consistent with most research," he said. In addition to a concentration on customer service, small banks tend to charge low fees, he added.

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