Why Banks and Credit Unions Should Care More About Online Reviews

Online reviews really do matter: They can boost a financial institution's search rankings, extend its reach into new markets, capture constructive feedback, and sharpen your company's competitive edge.

Most bankers probably know that their industry’s reputation for customer service has been lagging. Some may even know that trust in digital-first banks is improving. But they are less likely to know is online reviews — yes, lowly, commoditized pick-a-star and leave-a-comment ratings — can actually move the needle.

Here’s the situation: Customer satisfaction and trust in U.S. retail banks has declined significantly in recent years, with 13% of customers saying they are likely to switch their primary financial institution over the next year, according to JD Power. At the same time, the Global Financial Services Reputation Report shows that faith in new entrants is improving. The report finds that for 15% of people traditional banks triggered “negative associations,” versus just 2% for fintechs.

To be sure, online reviews have taken their knocks over the years. Google, the largest review site by far, removed 55 million reviews in 2020. And financial services is not a business category that lives and dies on the quality of their reviews (as, for example, restaurants and hotels do, on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor).

But having good online reviews can still make a difference — whether by boosting your search rankings, extending your reach, sourcing constructive feedback, or just keeping your competitive edge sharp. Meanwhile, a substantial cadre of sites focused on consumer financial services — like Bankrate and NerdWallet – have gained influence over the past 15 years. The table below offers a tour of the key players, including specialists and generalists.

Site Founded Notes
The OGs
Bankrate 1976 Specializes in financial products (e.g., banking, credit cards, loans, and mortgages). Expert reviews and customer feedback.
ConsumerAffairs 1998 Features consumer reviews and ratings for banks, credit cards, loans, and other financial products. Also provides expert insights and comparisons.
BBB 1912 BBB provides business profiles, including consumer reviews and complaints, with a focus on trustworthiness, including of banks and financial institutions.
The Specialists
Nerdwallet 2009 Reviews/comparisons of financial services, (e.g., banks, credit unions, and investment firms) based on user ratings and expert analysis.
Trustpilot 2007 A global review platform for a wide range of businesses, including banks and financial service providers.
Wallethub 2013 Specializes in financial products and services, offering reviews and comparisons based on user ratings and expert analysis.
MyBankTracker 2008 Focuses specifically on banks and credit unions, providing detailed reviews, comparisons, and user feedback.
Credit Karma 2007 Known for credit score monitoring, Credit Karma also offers user reviews and ratings for credit cards, loans, and banking services.
DepositAccounts 2005 Reviews and information about savings accounts, checking accounts, CDs, and other deposit products. Reviews and ratings for banks and credit unions.
The Generalists
Google Reviews 1998 Google Reviews has evolved since Google was founded in 1998. Integrated with Google Maps and Google Search, it carries reviews and ratings for any business, including banks and FS providers.
Yelp 2004 Known for restaurant and local business reviews, also includes financial services providers.

Banks don’t even need that many reviews: data from BrightLocal reveals that 86% of people will trust a local bank with as few as 10 reviews. Those reviews don’t all have to be positive — indeed, even negative reviews can be helpful. Reviews that show minor challenges, or offer an opportunity to respond constructively, can also show a bank to be responsive to customer opinion and being willing to change.

Here are six tactical ideas that can improve your bank’s online reputation:

1. Ask every customer for a review: It may seem obvious, but if you have already had a good interaction with a customer at the branch, ask them for an online review. You might be surprised by how many will respond — as many as four out of five people say they will complete a survey when asked. If you want customers to mention a new service or a certain product, ask them questions about that and encourage them to mention their experience in the review. Improving your Google rankings by gaining good reviews starts by asking people. A customer who has a bad experience needs no encouragement to post something negative online, but people generally need to be asked to post something positive. Let customers know their opinion really matters by simply asking for it.

2. Hand customers a card: If you have a customer that looks like they might write a review, make it easy for them. Handing them a card not only gives them a physical reminder but can have a Q-Code they can scan that will take them directly to the place you want them to write your Google review. These Q-Codes can also be strategically placed around the bank branch, too, to encourage positive feedback.

3. Target smaller bank/credit union and local sites: It’s true that Google is the first place that most people search when seeking a local business, but smaller sites that are relevant to your business also matter too. It’s important to ensure your details are current on sites such as DepositAccounts and WalletHub for detailed reviews about the banks in your area. Target a rating of above 3.3 (the lowest rating people will trust) with 4.0-4.7 being ideal.

4. Make email signatures interactive: For bank staff interacting with customers via email, electronic signatures at the end of every email can link to a review site of your choice. Simply include the words “Leave a review” below your email signature, hyperlinked to your preferred review site.

5. Respond to every review: People are suspicious of perfection. If a business has a ranking of 5 stars, many people assume that some or all the reviews are fake. And, among customers that read online reviews, 97% read the negative ones. Responding to the good and bad reviews is crucial since customers expect every review to be answered within one week at most. What you write is important because 56% of people say they have changed their opinion based on a company response to a review, according to Podium. Show you understand the issue and are taking corrective steps, when needed.

6. Consider texting instead of an email: Finally, when seeking customer reviews if you are not doing so in person, consider sending a text, not an email. Marketing campaigns that start with a text message boast an impressive 98% open rate with 95% of texts read within just three minutes.

Many businesses seek help from reputational management software to improve their online reviews and while that may sound costly, it can be worth it — 94% of local businesses say the investment pays for itself. It’s worth stressing that any firm that decides to take a proactive approach to managing reputation should do so in a manner that avoids any unethical behaviors that could harm the brand’s long-term reputation.

Local businesses that are proactive about managing their online reputation are 1.4x more likely to have an average star rating of 4.5 or higher. Indeed, having great customer service is the top reason (along with security and fraud protection and mobile/online access) that Americans consider when opening a bank account, with 91% saying it is important.

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Mark Egan has held leadership roles at Brookfield Asset Management, Allianz Global Investors, Guggenheim Partners and Bloomberg. Egan began his career at Reuters, where he worked as a journalist for nearly 20 years and won two Reuters Journalist of the Year awards. He has a Masters in economics from Trinity College Dublin and lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

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