After passively accepting ever-increasing mistreatment from big banks, activists, community groups and even some politicians are jumping aboard a broad, multi-stage “move your money” campaign designed to transfer bank deposits into community banks and credit unions.
The twin inspirations for this have been the Occupy Wall Street movement and its focus on the lords of finance, and Bank of America’s announcement of a $5 monthly debit card fee, charging customers to use their own money. The latter in particular has sparked a great deal of activity. A petition to Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan asking him to reverse the decision has over 223,000 signatures on the site Change.org. And House Democrats have asked Attorney General Holder to begin an investigation into whether big banks violated antitrust laws by colluding with one another over increased fees after the implementation of swipe fee reform from Dodd-Frank.
But many are bypassing the idea of getting BofA or other banks to reverse its fees and moving directly to encouraging customers to move their money. Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) introduced a bill that makes the process of moving money simpler, and bans all exit fees on the customer for transferring out of a bank. The idea is to fight gouging with competition, and to make the ability to move money frictionless.
This policy-level reform proposal can also help remind people that they have a choice in banking. And activists have picked up that mantle. A Facebook campaign has turned November 5 into bank transfer day.
Bank Transfer Day was started by a 27-year-old Los Angeles art-gallery owner, Kristen Christian. She says she’s not affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street protesters but that many organizers of those demonstrations had reached out to her to express support.
Christian chose Nov. 5 because of its association with 17th century British folk hero Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the House of Lords but was captured on that date in 1605. In an interview with the Village Voice, however, Christian and Occupy Wall Street leaders who discussed the effort to get Americans to move their money from large banks to small institutions emphasized that they weren’t trying to create a collapse of the financial system. ”I’ve been very careful to state that this is not … anarchy,” Christian told the Voice. “It’s shifting the money to a company people respect the practices of. It’s like, if you don’t like Walmart’s practices, shopping at a local grocery store instead.”
There’s no denying the populist appeal the movement has garnered: as of Sunday afternoon, about 14,000 Facebook users had RSVP’d to the event, and numerous other pages had been set up in support of the concept. But while plenty of people may like the idea of switching banks to avoid extra fees, moving the foundation of their financial life takes not only dedication but also time (a few weeks at minimum) and a fair amount of tedious paperwork.
The numbers have jumped since that article went to press: it’s now at 36,000 attendees. And that’s without any coordinated help from more established activist groups, which is on the way in the coming weeks. The time and paperwork aspect as a barrier to entry is the problem Miller is trying to solve, but I have a feeling there’s a certain determination behind the frustration that inspired and energized this effort.
And it’s not just individuals who are moving their money; it’s city and county governments, and large organizations with big bank accounts:
In San Jose on Wednesday, unhappy customers were striking back at bank bottom lines.
Standing near the altar of the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Father Eduardo Samaniego announced that the East Side parish is moving its $3 million account with Bank of America, where the church has done business for at least 20 years, to a community credit union.
“We are in a holy place to do holy work,” the Jesuit priest told 17 others members affiliated with People Acting In Community Together who stood alongside him. Some held posters that read “Keep Families In Their Homes” or “Stop Corporate Greed,” and several made similar announcements about divesting their own personal bank accounts from big banks involved in foreclosures into community banks or credit unions that were not.
San Jose has been ground zero for these efforts. The city moved nearly 1 billion out of Bank of America, specifically because of their poor track record on foreclosures. The county is poised to follow suit.
The Move Your Money project didn’t totally take off when Arianna Huffington established it after the financial crisis. It’s starting to have a revival.
Now if we can only get politicians to refuse to accept bank money, too…