Consumers in the Northeast and South care less than those in the Midwest and West about whether their banks are locally owned, according to a survey.

Aragon Consulting Group, St. Louis, asked respondents to rate the importance of local ownership on a seven-point scale, from "not at all important" to "extremely important."

It's extremely important, said 30.2% of midwesterners and 31.1% of westerners-but only 24.1% of southerners and 18.3% of northeasterners agreed.

In the Northeast, almost the same percentage of respondents-16.9%-said it was extremely important to do business with a large regional or national bank.

Sydney Finkelstein, professor of strategy and leadership at Dartmouth College's Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, said customers in the Northeast and South are simply more comfortable with big banks and may even view them as safer.

His explanation of why people in the West and Midwest prefer small banks: "When they think 'national bank,' they think 'New York City,' and they want to stay away from that."

One hundred people were questioned in each of the four regions.

Gary Miller, chairman of Aragon, said the results show that customers from the Midwest and West value the close relationships they have developed with community bankers.

"They consider the banker their friend and a part of the fabric of the community," said Mr. Miller, whose firm advises large banks. "There is less of a personal relationship at the retail level in the Northeast."

Mr. Miller said he believes customers in the Northeast and South would like to have closer relationships with their bankers but that the industry's rapid consolidation and high employee turnover have made such associations scarce.

In other regions, people were less enthusiastic about larger banks. Only 10.4% of midwesterners, 10.3% of southerners and 8.9% of westerners said it was extremely important to choose a big bank.

John Carusone, president of Bank Analysis Center, Hartford, Conn., said northeasterners may be more at ease with big banks because even small-town customers are familiar with them.

Unlike First Chicago NBD Corp., which has little or no presence outside major metropolitan areas, "BankBoston, Fleet, and First Union have branches in communities of 5,000 in Maine, in Connecticut," Mr. Carusone said. "The Northeast and the Southeast are very overbanked."

Mr. Miller predicted a shift in customer loyalty to community banks as consolidation continues-regardless of region.

"The service from banks has deteriorated at the retail level as the result of consolidation," he said. "Customers migrate whenever that happens."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.