BofA takes top spot in customer service

In another set of customer service rankings out this week, Bank of America Corp. knocked crosstown rival Wachovia Corp. out of the top spot.

The annual survey, released Thursday by J.D. Power and Associates, polled more than 3,000 consumers who had recently obtained a home equity loan or line of credit. On a 1,000-point scale, Bank of America scored the highest with 811.

Wachovia, which had been No. 1 for the past two years, scored a close third behind SunTrust Banks Inc., with 807.

Both Charlotte banks scored well above the industry average of 780, which rose 14 points over the previous year.

Bank of America spokesman Terry Francisco said the bank was “very gratified by the results of the survey.”

“It's a tribute to our associates throughout the enterprise who strive to provide responsible credit products to our customers,” he said.

Kathleen Von Bergen, a spokeswoman for Wachovia, said the bank was “pleased to be a top-ranking company in this study.”

“Wachovia has a longstanding commitment to customer service, raising the bar for the entire financial services industry,” she added.Both banks have tightened standards for home equity loans as they expect more consumers to default on those loans.

Bank of America had $118 billion in home equity loans on balance in the first quarter, or about 22 percent of consumer loans.

Wachovia had $57.8 billion, also about 22 percent of consumer loans.

The overall increase in happy customers is partly due to trouble in the housing and mortgage markets, which lowered customers' expectations for the home equity lending process, said Tim Ryan, a senior research director at J.D. Power.

Conversely, a J.D. Power survey released Wednesday theorized that trouble in the housing and mortgage markets was also responsible for customers being less satisfied with retail banks, since customers could blame the banks for market problems.

Countrywide Financial Corp., which Bank of America plans to buy this summer, scored 728 in the home-equity survey, placing it last among big lenders. Christina Rexrode

Shares of Countrywide Financial Corp. rose 8.2 percent Thursday after the biggest U.S. home lender set a date for shareholders to vote on a $4 billion takeover by Bank of America Corp.

Setting a firm date for the special shareholders meeting may help quell investor concern that Bank of America will seek a lower price or cancel the deal. The Charlotte bank has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to the purchase and said Wednesday one of its own executives will be in charge of the combined mortgage operations.

“It looks to be beyond the point of no return,” said Paul Miller, an analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. in Arlington, Va.

The meeting will be held June 25 at Countrywide's headquarters in Calabasas, Calif., the company said late Wednesday.

Countrywide rose 41 cents to $5.39. Bank of America added 73 cents to $34.60. Bloomberg News