Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase accounted for a quarter of all bank complaints in Florida last year, with mortgage disputes by far the most common gripe statewide, according to an analysis released Monday.
Miami economist and bank consultant Ken Thomas, who based his analysis on three years' worth of data from the Florida Division of Financial Institutions, said he wasn't surprised at Bank of America's top rank because it's the largest institution in Florida.
What was surprising, he said, is that complaints about the North Carolina-based megabank have risen each of the past two years, while the total number of bank complaints in Florida fell 25 percent from 2009 to 2010. In 2008, Bank of America accounted for just over 12 percent of all complaints statewide; by last year, its share had risen to 16.5 percent of all complaints.
Bank of America spokeswoman Christina Beyer Toth said bank personnel familiar with tracking complaints were not available Monday.
JPMorgan Chase stood out in a different way. The bank has less than 3 percent of Florida deposits, yet represented nearly 9 percent of complaints. Chase spokeswoman Daisy Cabrera declined to address specifics, saying the bank had not seen the analysis.
But Cabrera maintained Chase addresses customer complaints "quickly and efficiently. … We remain committed to continuing our Florida expansion and helping customers."
Thomas said the DFI database includes complaints for Chase affiliates, like credit card operations, but the data in these tables are only for the bank. Even if Chase's numbers were inflated because some credit card complaints were miscategorized, the data still shows persistently high complaint levels since 2008. Two years after Chase bought and integrated Washington Mutual, which greatly helped expand its Florida footprint, the complaint numbers should be lower, he said.
The report's bottom line, Thomas said, is that Bank of America and Chase stick out in the complaint department in contrast to institutions like Wells Fargo, which had a lower complaint ratio compared to deposits even after absorbing the troubled Wachovia Corp.
"The fact is that some financial institutions do a better job of serving customers than others," he said. "Those having financial or other difficulties often cut back on employees and customer service. Even the strongest banks, however, can have many complaints if they are not serving their customers well."
Among other findings, a credit union cracked the Top 5 complaint list: Space Coast Credit Union, which assumed assets of the failed Eastern Financial Florida FCU. Saxon Mortgage Services, which assumed part of the mortgage portfolio of the failed Taylor, Bean & Whitaker operation, also ranked high for its size.
Mortgage gripes accounted for almost a third (30 percent) of all complaints last year, followed by account balance disclosures (21 percent).
Jeff Harrington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ jeffmharrington.