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3 Boston area banks ranked among worst on complaints

Three regional banks in the Boston market ranked among the 10 worst in the nation in terms of complaints, according to a report by a consumer advocacy group.

When adjusted for size, Boston-based Sovereign Bank had the second-most complaints, trailing only TCF Bank of Minnesota, according to the US Public Interest Research Group. RBS Citizens Bank of Providence ranked number four, and TD Bank, which has headquarters in Portland, Maine, was seventh.

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Bank of America, the country’s second-largest bank and the target of criticism in recent years over fees and home loan practices, ranked 24th for complaints. Bank of America customers logged about three complaints for every $1 billion in deposits that the bank holds, compared to the nine complaints per $1 billion by Sovereign customers.

US PIRG based its ranking on an analysis of complaints filed with the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and available through the agency’s new complaint database.

The group found that most criticisms involved checking accounts. Consumers were unhappy about how banks managed their accounts, treated low balances, and dealt with disputed transactions and fees for ATMs and debit cards.

Deirdre Cummings, legislative director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, an affiliate of US PIRG, said she hopes the analysis will encourage the regional banks to improve.

“This public database will create pressure,” she said.

The federal complaint database is an opportunity for banks to learn and improve their customer experience, said Rebecca Acevedo, a spokeswoman for the Canadian-owned TD Bank, in a statement.

The bank also conducts customer surveys every day, she added.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created as part of the reforms that followed the financial crisis of 2008.

The complaint database is among the tools the agency uses to monitor banks, their practices, and emerging areas of concern for consumers.

With increased scrutiny, banks, including Sovereign, have launched efforts to make their fees and other account information easier to find and understand.

Sovereign Bank, owned by Spanish banking giant Banco Santander SA, is also investing in renovating its branches, installing new ATMs, and creating a new customer website in October, said Siobhan O’Shea, a company spokeswoman.

The bank has also provided employees with more customer service training and enhanced its internal standards to resolve issues more quickly, O’Shea said.

Citizens Bank, a unit of the Royal Bank of Scotland, is focused on responding to complaints quickly, said spokesman Jim Hughes.

According to the report, Citizens had among the highest percentage of complaints — more than 50 percent — resolved through refunds.

“As this report shows,” Hughes said in a statement. "We have been effective in resolving complaints to the customer’s satisfaction and in a timely manner along the way.”

The Public Interest Research Groups said they plan keep tabs on whether banks address customer concerns and complaints decline.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.
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