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A ranking of the most complained-about banks is not topped by Wells Fargo

Researchers say they were surprised to find a smaller, Minnesota-based bank topped their list

Considering what a tough year this has been for Wells Fargo, researchers expected a stagecoach would lead the way when they sat down to tally up which American bank was most likely to get complained about in 2016.

But no.

Even though Wells has taken plenty of heat for creating new accounts without getting customers' permission, the folks at LendEDU found that a Minnesota bank – TCF Financial – had the dishonor of topping their list.

TCF has some complaints of its own, though, when it comes to the methods used by LendEDU, a company that refinances student loan debt.

What did they find?

One of the changes the U.S. made after the last recession was the creation of a central place where people could take complaints about their bank – any bank. Or savings and loan, credit union, whatever.

That place is called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and they've got a giant database of complaints filed against thousands of banks in the last few years.

That's where LendEDU got its information for 2016. But of course the biggest banks get the most complaints because they have the most customers. So to get a number that's sort of like a per capita ranking, they measured complaints per $1 billion in deposits.

You can see their full results here but here's how the top six looked:

  1. TCF Financial 12.3 complaints for every $1 billion of deposits
  2. Citigroup 8.5 complaints
  3. Wells Fargo 8
  4. SunTrust Banks 7.6
  5. Bank of America 7.2
  6. U.S. Bancorp 7.1

“We thought for sure Wells Fargo would have been on top of the list," LendEDU CEO Nate Matherson told CBS News. They weren't, but then again third place is not that far from the top.

Matherson also told the network they were surprised that the number one spot went to a regional bank, not a national one.

The analysis inflates the ratio of complaints for a bank like TCF

TCF argues that using the complaints-by-deposit figure is not fair to smaller, regional banks. Their point is that the deposits of a retail bank consist of lots of individual consumers, while commercial banks can reach big deposit totals with a smaller number of big corporate accounts.

In other words, they say the big guys can get to $1 billion with fewer customers – and fewer customers usually means fewer complaints.

A TCF spokesman told CBS the LendEDU's methodology doesn't take that into account. "The analysis inflates the ratio of complaints for a bank like TCF which has a higher number of transaction accounts relative to peers with similar deposit sizes, and most also have a higher concentration of commercial deposits than we do,” he said.

Not the first time for TCF

The same type of analysis was done by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group a few years ago, back when the complaint database was still pretty new.

Who had the most complaints per $1 billion back in 2013? It was a Wayzata, Minnesota-based bank called TCF Financial.

But that doesn't mean nothing has changed at TCF. In that 2013 analysis, they were getting nearly 25 complaints for every $1 billion of deposits. The 12.3 in the new study by LendEDU is less than half that.

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