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The concept of consumer loyalty to banks appears to have gone the way of the passbook savings account.

According to J.D. Power and Associates' 2012 U.S. Bank Customer Switching and Acquisition Study, 9.6% of customers indicate they switched their primary banking institution during the past year to a new provider. This is up from 8.7% in 2011 and 7.7% in 2010.

Acquisition of new customers by smaller banks and credit unions has increased by 2.2 percentage points to an average of 10.3%, up from 8.1% in 2011. Among big banks, regional banks and midsize banks, switching rates average between 10% and 11.3%, while the defection rate for small banks and credit unions averages only 0.9%, a significant drop from 8.8% in 2011.

High fees and low-quality customer service are cited as key reasons behind the customer defections.

"When banks announce the implementation of new fees, public reaction can be quite volatile and result in customers voting with their feet," says Michael Beird, director of the banking services practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "It is apparent that new or increased fees are the proverbial straws that break the camel's back. Service experiences that fall below customer expectations are a powerful influencer that primes customers for switching once a subsequent event gives them a final reason to defect. Regardless of bank size, more than one-half of all customers who said fees were the main reason to shop for another bank also indicated that their prior bank provided poor service."


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