It’s going to be hard to gauge the actual success of Bank Transfer Day for a while. Not only do we have to wait for record-keeping – and Bank of America, at least, is not giving up the data – but many customers may have just initiated the bank transfer process, opening their account at a credit union or community bank, and are waiting for everything to clear with their other bank account before closing it.
For example, to add an editorial comment, this is what I did yesterday. I participated in Bank Transfer Day by opening an account at a local credit union. But I only put a trivial amount into the account, and will then wire my money over electronically from Bank of America after being assured that all charges have cleared on that account. I’ve been a BofA customer, through sheer inertia, since 1998. Business was pretty brisk at the credit union, and the bank manager said it’s been that way for the last month (we do know from statistics provided by the Credit Union National Association that credit unions have added 650,000 new members with $4.5 billion in deposits since September 29, when Bank of America announced their since-abandoned debit card fee). When I said I was transferring from BofA, the bank manager smiled knowingly.
I suspect there are a lot of people like me, and there’s no question that Bank Transfer Day generated a lot of media attention and localized events. The picture you see up top – and I’ll put a few more at the bottom of the post – came from a Move Your Money event in San Rafael, California. Organizers announced that 250 people attended the event, and almost all of them pulled their money out of big banks and into community banks or credit unions. They also leafleted in front of Wells Fargo, Chase and Bank of America, encouraging other customers to move their money.
And this was replicated throughout the country, generating a lot of local media. There were events in Philadelphia and Buffalo and Dallas and Amarillo and Portland, Oregon and Des Moines and Petaluma, California and Fresno and Santa Cruz and dozens if not hundreds of other sites across the country. Move Our Money USA, the offshoot effort put together by the New Bottom Line, reports over $31 million in bank transfers as of today, and they only started a week ago. And that includes the millions of dollars they are helping to move through the cancellation of banking services by clergy, community groups and municipal governments, a powerful additional spur to the movement.
I don’t know that this will hurt banks. As Zach Carter and Ryan Grim point out, accounts with low balances actually cost the big banks money to manage them, so moving those accounts out saves them a bit of money. I’m not sure I totally buy that, as banks still need working capital and they lose out on a suite of fees, many of which are targeted at customers with low balances. But it’s possible.
What I do know is this: the action of choosing not to participate in the Wall Street economy, to go local, is a powerful one. It’s not as convenient. You may not have global access to your money 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You may not have all the ATMs in your vicinity that you might like. But you have the pride of knowing that your little piece of global wealth isn’t going into the hands of a bank that uses it as you would a chip in a casino. It’s a statement more than anything, a statement of rejection, of opposition, a withdrawing of support more than a withdrawal of money. And I don’t think it stops with Bank Transfer Day.
Some more pics from San Rafael: