In 2023, banks need more than great rates to attract corporate and individual customers. They must also offer quick, multi-channel service both online and in branches, and use that customer service to earn trust.
That may be why some top performers on Forbes' fifth annual list of the World's Best Banks aren't necessarily the biggest game in town. They offer a little something extra to their customer base, building customer loyalty during the recent skittishness over the run on Silicon Valley Bank and other financial institutions.
"It's all about good customer service that offers the customer the lowest loan rate, or the best deposit rate, with the convenience of digital access -- but at the same time, having a physical branch to visit, especially to resolve any problems with your account," says RBC Capital Markets Managing Director Gerard S. Cassidy.
World's Best Banks 2023, created in partnership with the market research firm Statista, used an online survey of more than 48,000 people in 32 countries to rate their banks on general satisfaction, trust, digital services, customer service and more. A total of 415 banks -- four percent of those that exist worldwide, based on estimates by IBISWorld -- reached minimum scores to be included.
The full list, located here, has some surprises beyond behemoths like Citibank, HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank, which rank highly in at least six different countries. Japan's top performer is a disruptive digital bank founded in 2007, SBI Sumishin Net Bank, followed by Sony Bank -- yes, that Sony -- an online institution operated by Sony's financial services arm.
Many were customer-owned, such as Newcastle Permanent, which topped the list in Australia. Keytrade Bank, which started life as an online leader in market trading, morphed into a fully-featured bank and now leads Belgium's list. After focusing on people who wanted to primarily use their phones to bank, Pepper made its way to the top of the list in Israel.
Sparda-Bank Hessen eG, the No. 1 ranked bank in Germany with total assets just shy of 10 billion euros, shows the power of a smaller bank with a strong regional focus. It specializes in retail banking with all 36 branches in the state of Hesse, which includes Frankfurt. Founded in 1903, it's a cooperative bank, with about 77% of its 368,000 customers also members of the bank. The company makes donations of about 1.6 million euros a year to local causes, and concentrates most of its efforts on regional customers.
Click here for the full list of The World's Best Banks 2023.
The bank's recent innovations include SpardaFondsFlat, which offers investment funds without transaction fees, and SpardaRückgabeGarantie, which offers investments that guarantee against losses. Its website highlights investing in funds that focus on sustainability, and describes local Easter customs in Hesse (if you visit, village bonfires are a must).
"We try to give the best financial services and consultancy possible," Sparda CEO Markus Müller says. "Furthermore, we develop digitization and focus on sustainability in our financial services."
USAA Federal Savings Bank, which topped the U.S. list, also focuses its efforts on only a segment of the banking market: current and ex-military members and their families. With total assets of $110 billion and 9.3 million customers/members, USAA shined primarily through its excellent customer service. It has no brick-and-mortar branches; it focuses on online banking and lets customers use 100,000 different ATMs that belong to other banks at no charge. It also allows early availability for deposited paychecks and has no insufficient funds fee, both of which can be particularly valuable for military members operating on a limited budget or frequently on the move.
"USAA's mission is to facilitate the financial security of the military community," says Roger Wildermuth, the company's director of public relations and corporate communications. "We do that by knowing our members better than anyone else."
Josh Rodriguez of Gardner, Kansas, served in the U.S. Army and was deployed three times -- twice in Iraq and once in Kuwait. At the recommendation of his father (a Navy veteran himself), he says he uses USAA for checking, savings and insurance. Rodriguez just added the third generation, getting his 17-year-old son a checking account.
"I like how quick their response time is," Rodriguez says. "And all of their customer service is U.S.-based."
That kind of attention to both customer service and the specific needs and desires of banks' core audiences may be the key to getting cautious customers to stay put even when other banks are imploding, experts say.
"Considering the current economic climate, the primary goal of any transformation agenda for banks is to improve customer service and, in turn, aid a stable economy," says Parijat Banerjee, global head of Business Services at Latentview Analytics. "It is critical for executive teams to ask themselves how they can make banking experiences seamlessly integrated into their customers' routines if they want them to stay."
To rank the World's Best Banks, Statista surveyed more than 48,000 customers in 14 languages and 32 countries for their opinions on their current and former banking relationships. Any bank offering checking or savings accounts was eligible; United States credit unions were not.
Banks were rated on general satisfaction (30% of the final score) and whether they would recommend the bank (30%). The final 40% came from customer ratings in five key areas: trust, terms and conditions, digital services, customer services and financial advice. Numbers of banks vary based on the size of the country, the survey audience, and how many banks they named. To make the list, a bank had to be rated by at least 250 customers.
As with all Forbes lists, companies do not pay any fee to participate. For questions about this list, please contact listdesk (at) Forbes.com.
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