By Jessica McEvoy”This is what you get when you don’t have a clue about the world you live in.”
That’s how David O’Connor, chief executive of Sierra Nevada Financial Services (SNV) puts it in his new book, Sierra: The World of Financial Services.
And that’s what the industry has been telling the public for years.
For years, Sierra has been the industry’s biggest and most influential player, delivering high-quality service, offering a solid platform for innovative financial products and services and maintaining a reputation for excellent customer service.
But a growing number of analysts are warning that Sierra is losing ground as it continues to evolve in terms of customer acquisition, customer loyalty and overall financial performance.
Sierra is losing its competitive edge.
“The market has gone from a $30 billion market to a $50 billion market,” says Chris Tyszkiewicz, chief financial officer at SNV.
“This is not a new phenomenon.”
Sierra shares are down 8% in the past year as the financial services industry tries to keep pace with changes in technology and consumer preferences.
SNV also is under fire for poor customer service, with a majority of its customers saying they’ve had to call or email their bank to get service.
“They are not happy,” Tysi says.
“It’s not a good feeling.”
In a recent survey of 1,100 Sierra customers, Sierra’s financial services ranked 29th out of 30 in the U.S. (and 30th out-of-country) in terms in terms people expect from financial services.
In addition, Sierra says it has a reputation as a poor customer experience, with customers calling and emailing the bank, but only after hours or even on weekends.
In the Sierra community, the lack of communication and frequent late calls and emails are common complaints, according to former Sierra employees.
“You see a lot of people who have been there for years complaining, and the same complaints, and we get these calls on weekends,” says former Sierra employee and now chief financial analyst for Wells Fargo.
Sierra’s financial industry colleagues say it’s the banks’ responsibility to ensure that Sierra customers have an accurate account with their bank, so the banks can focus on their core mission of providing the best customer experience possible.
But Sierra has faced a number of challenges in the banking world over the past few years.
In 2016, the U-verse brand was acquired by Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal.
Sixty-three percent of its employees left Sierra in the same year, while the average age of its CEO was nearly 60.
And the financial crisis hit, which left many employees unable to work.
In February 2017, the company lost its biggest customer, Wells Fargo, to JP Morgan Chase.
In February 2018, Sierra lost its top two customers, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley.
In September 2018, SNV filed for bankruptcy protection, triggering a court order that allowed it to close its doors and close the accounts of all of its former employees.
Sierra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2018.
As part of that, the bank agreed to give Sierra a total of $15.6 million in severance and $8.9 million in interest.
In return, Sierra agreed to make a $10.4 million payment to its former executives, including a $3.9 billion payment to former CEO David Oleszewski.
But Sierra also agreed to take out an additional $3 billion in loans and other payments from Wells Fargo and other banks to help fund its financial reorganization and restructuring plans.
“The bottom line is that it’s really a matter of the banks not wanting to be associated with Sierra,” says Tysy.
“We have to do what’s best for us, not for the banks.”
The financial industry is working hard to attract new customers to Sierra and is making strides, but it’s unclear whether Sierra will be able to keep up with these changes.
For example, the number of Sierra customers who are in good or excellent credit status has fallen sharply over the last year, from an average of 3,400 customers a month in January 2017 to 2,500 in May 2018, according a recent report by CreditCards.com.
And SNV is still struggling to attract its largest customer base in the United States.
For its first six months of 2017, SVA had only 9% of its customer base enrolled in the program.
By May, that number had fallen to 6% and was down to 3% in June.
The Sierra community is also grappling with the fact that its biggest financial customer base is also the most diverse and least ethnically diverse.SNCs recent financial performance is not surprising given the high profile it has achieved in recent years.
According to SNCs annual report, its total revenue increased 9.4% to $5.6 billion, from $4.5