The largest banks are doing a worse job than their smaller counterparts at giving timely, thorough responses to e-mail inquiries.

Many of the top 100 U.S. banks, even those with sophisticated Web sites, were found to be mediocre at best and nonresponsive at worst to customers' e-mail inquiries, according to a study released Wednesday by Amacis, a Belfast, Northern Ireland, company that sells e-mail-sifting software; Roper Starch Worldwide; and Market Trace. "The largest Internet-savvy banks didn't do as well as we expected, and the smaller banks with less Internet presence are doing well," said Jeffrey Peel, vice president of global marketing at Amacis.

Two e-mail queries were sent to each of the top 100 U.S. banking companies. Each response was evaluated according to its timeliness, relevance, overall quality, and whether the company allocated a case number for follow-up questions, Mr. Peel said.

Marshall & Ilsley Corp. of Milwaukee, the 24th-largest banking company, sent the most complete and timely responses, followed by Wesbanco Inc. of Wheeling, W.Va., the 100th-largest. The top five spots on the list were filled by banks below the top 20 in assets.

Only 38% of the inquiries submitted received a satisfactory response within 24 hours, and 27% were never answered at all. Fourteen of the companies had no general e-mail addresses for customer inquiries, the survey found.

Interviews with 20 bank executives about how promptly their companies responded to e-mail inquiries found greater optimism than seemed to be borne out by the study.

"Executives thought they were doing much better" than they actually were, Mr. Peel said.

Sixty-seven percent of the 20 executives said their banks responded to e-mails within 24 hours. The study found that 55% of the 100 banks responded that promptly. None of the executives said that their bank does not respond to customer e-mails.

"U.S. bankers are really bullish on the Internet, but they need to get their act together before pursuing that channel," Mr. Peel said.

Seventy-nine percent of the bankers interviewed said they expect Internet banking to be one of the three most important banking channels in the next three years. Seventy-four percent said automated teller machines would be an important channel, and 63% said bank branches.

The executives said that 1% to 15% of their customer bases bank online, but they predicted this will increase to 25% to 50% in the next three years.

Compared with the results of a similar study of banking companies in the United Kingdom last August by Amacis, U.S. banking companies were more responsive. None of the U.K. companies scored more than 80% on the quality and timeliness of their responses, but all of the top 10 U.S. companies scored over 80%.

Only 66% of the U.K. bankers said the Internet would be a top channel in three years.

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.