We’ve spoken a lot about how British banks are changing to keep up with their customers and attract new ones. But what about American customers and American banks? Is there anything to learn from what they’re doing across the ditch?

We asked three American millennials to choose a new bank. All three would be instructed to use the internet, but by three distinctly different methods: Jason would choose a bank using social media; Kevin would choose a bank using the banks’ own websites; while Megan would choose a bank using review websites.

Would all three find what they were looking for? Would all three choose the same bank? What difference does soliciting opinions on social media make versus, say, trusting the literature hosted on the banks’ sites? And why do people do each?

Below, we let Jason, Kevin, and Megan tell you what they discovered – in their own words.

Method 1: Social media – Jason

choosing the perfect bank

Why do I use social media?

I’m very active on social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It’s great. What pubs, bars, and discotheques did for socialising in our parents’ and grandparents’ day, social media is doing for us. I have lots of friends, and I genuinely care about all of them, but I don’t have time to grab a beer with each and every one. Social media lets me stay in touch with them, lets us stay in each others’ lives without having to drive a thousand miles or go to a club every night.

When I want to know the unvarnished truth about something, I ask my friends. - Highlight to share -

When I want to know the unvarnished truth about something, I ask my friends. I know them, I have for years, and they’ve earned my trust. Perhaps the biggest advantage to social media is its ability to help you quickly and efficiently gather a consensus on a topic. If I want opinions on a movie, I check out social media before buying a ticket. If I’m looking for restaurant recommendations, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great. The list of things I use social media to inquire about and “do my homework” on is endless.

So naturally, when I needed to choose a new bank, I asked social media – specifically Facebook and Twitter, where I know the most people personally.

How did I canvas opinion on social?

I created a post – one on Facebook, one on Twitter – outlining what I was looking for in a new bank. Specifically, I said I wanted “an easy-to-use mobile app, lots of ATMs, and no hidden fees,” things that I would imagine most potential customers my age are also looking for.

american banks

What did I find out?

On Facebook, I noticed a few trends. First, only people who had extremely positive or extremely negative experiences seemed to respond. Every bank mentioned was either the best in the universe, or the worst in history. I reckon this makes sense – people are moved to act by things they feel strongly about. This helped me establish a few basic, broad parameters: which banks to utterly avoid, and which to keep in mind, but it didn’t help much to flesh out the plenty of options that were perfectly serviceable and may otherwise go unnoticed.

It's hard to express nuanced opinions on complex topics like interest rates and bank fees when confined to 140 characters. - Highlight to share -

Secondly, I did find it helpful to count the “likes” each comment received as a way of ranking the helpfulness of comment, or how frequently a similar sentiment had been experienced by other people who chose to vote simply by “liking” rather than commenting.

american banks

On Twitter, the inherent brevity of the platform made fleshing out important details difficult. It’s hard to express nuanced opinions on complex topics like interest rates and bank fees when confined to 140 characters. Also, as we all know: Twitter is the kingdom of the unhelpful trolls. I had to sift through many, many unhelpful comments.

In the end, I chose…

Bank of America, because even though some people had a few negative experiences, more people reported positive things about the specific issues that mattered to me than any other bank.

What we learnt from using social media to make consumer choices:

  • It’s an easy way to ask people you trust: your friends.
  • It yields polarised opinions – there’s no nuance in social media.

Method 2: Bank websites – Kevin

choosing the perfect bank

Why do I go to straight to the horse’s mouth?

Maybe it’s because of my field – I’m a stockbroker – but when it comes to making important decisions, I like to listen to professionals. When I’m buying a car, when I’m choosing a broker, and – certainly – when I’m choosing a bank account, I want to hear from the people who understand the ins and outs of the product best.

Some people tell me, “but what about marketing-speak and sneaky salesperson babble?” Sure, I need to be mindful of that, and consciously sift through it, but heck, I do that every day of my life. Why should I expect to be able to get away with any less vigilance in this – an important decision – than I do in the countless inconsequential decisions I make all day?

How did I do it and what did I find?

When I chose a bank, I perused and navigated the banks’ official websites myself. I like the ability to get detailed, bullet-pointed specifications about each account option. I like to read the technical description of the services – I don’t need anyone summarising or paraphrasing it for me only to misconstrue part of it or misrepresent what it does.

american banks

Additionally, certain banks have a built-in feature or tool that allows you to perform side-by-side comparisons of the key features of their accounts. I found this ability especially informative and helpful, and it helped build my trust in the bank. Transparency is the name of the game when it comes to letting you handle my finances, thank you very much.

I did not like how certain banks run their websites like store fronts. Sure, I understand: at the end of the day, they’re trying to make a sale. But when it comes to choosing a bank, I don’t need razzle-dazzle and flashy design. I want good, solid, easy-to-digest information.

In the end, I chose…

Chase, because their comparison tool made them the easiest to understand, and as a result, I felt most comfortable trusting them with my business.

What we learnt from using product websites to make consumer choices:

  • It’s an easy and accessible way to understand the technical features of the product.
  • Comparison tools are especially useful.
  • Obvious salesmanship is not appreciated.

Method 3: Review websites – Megan

choosing the perfect bank

Why did I go straight to the reviews?

We live in the age of the Powerful Consumer; at least, that’s what I believe. I don’t trust marketing or advertising, and I definitely don’t trust myself. I’m no expert – how can I know which high-yield checking account is right for me or which biannually compounded interest rate is best? I didn’t study economics or finance – I studied history, and I liked it.

Reviews are empowering because they are inherently consumer-focused, and while banks may forget to mention a detail that is important to customers, you can be sure reviews won't. - Highlight to share -

That’s why I trust reviews. I want to read the stories of those who went before me. I want to benefit from the experience of those who know, and who don’t care who else knows it. Reviews are a democratising force, and I like to harness it. Spin your prettiest ad campaigns, banks! I’m immune to them, thanks to the power of reviews!

What did I find out?

Reviews save me time and clarify the process. If I see a bank or an account has over 200 reviews and most of them are negative, I can safely and efficiently eliminate that bank and move on to the next. If I see a bank has over 200 reviews and five stars, I can give that bank more of my attention, and rest assured it’s worth it.

Further, reviews are empowering because they are inherently consumer-focused, and while banks may forget to mention a detail that is important to customers, you can be sure reviews won’t. By using reviews, I make sure no small annoyance (or, indeed, huge problem) goes overlooked or unmentioned before I take the plunge.

When I see reviews by a bank, I feel like I can better trust that bank’s information. That bank feels more transparent than the rest. I trust the opinions on the reviews because…well, why wouldn’t I? They’re regular people, just like me. I like that.

In the end, I chose…

Ally Bank, because they had one of the highest volumes of customer reviews for consideration, and the majority of those reviews were positive, insightful, and helpful.

What we learnt from using reviews to make consumer choices:

  • Reviews cut out the need for advertising and marketing that can be perceived as untrustworthy.
  • They’re an easy and fast way to sort which products are even worth considering.
  • Brands which have reviews by consumers are seen as more transparent.
  • Reviews are consumer focused and by regular people.

Three different people, three different methods, three different choices. But there were some common qualities potential customers were looking for when making their choice: transparency, detail and honesty.

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How Americans are choosing their banks