Targeting banks in the broad light of day


Activists say it's time to leave the bad dream of Pottersville for the promise of Bailey Park. Photo:

An ad in the October 10 issue of The New Yorker proudly claims that “Banks know that people unhappy with their checking accounts rarely make a change.” The ad then asks what you would do, giving two options:

  • Stay unhappy.
  • Get a checking account that doesn’t take you for granted.

The bank, Ally Bank, claims that they not only make no ATM charges, but that they reimburse you for ATM charges from other banks nationwide.

Sounds pretty sweet.

But whether it’s sweet enough to lure in customers angry about new fees for using debit cards planned by banks, including Bank of America ($5 per month), and Wells Fargo ($3 per month), remains to be seen. After all, as the ad claims, few who are unhappy change.

Bank Transfer Day

One group hopes account-holders will change, though. Springing from the shared ire in the #OccupyWallStreet movement, anti-big bank activists aim to recruit those who sympathize with widespread outrage over Wall Street and rogue banking practices through “Bank Transfer Day,” which encourages depositers to divest from national banks.

The project’s creator, 27-year-old artist Kristen Christian who is based in Los Angeles, wants to send a message that planned new banking fees won’t stand. But, by costing them customers, the activists also want to help bring down to size banks that are “too big to fail.”

The banks claim that new fees are the only way to make enough money to stay in business. But this claim rings hollow. According to an article on Yahoo Finance yesterday, “Without the additional fee, Bank of America stands to turn a $3.3 billion annual profit from its 59 million customers’ debit card transactions.”

On Facebook, the Bank Transfer Day event already boats 31,977 attendees as of this writing. With a nod to the Wachowsky brothers’ cult classic V for Vendetta, depositors are encouraged to transfer their money from major banks by November 5, celebrated in Britain as Guy Fawkes Day. This year, rather than trying to blow up the British Parliament building, anti-bank activists are recalibrating explosiveness to hit where business hates it the most: on the bottom line.

The full plan, participants say, is to withdraw money from their accounts with major banks and put it in locally owned banks and local credit unions instead. A like-minded organization, the Move Your Money Project, offers links to a database of local credit unions nationwide. Meanwhile, the November 5 event aims to “send a clear message to the 1% that conscious consumers won’t support companies with unethical business practices.”


Mere envy or a thirst for justice?

Yet, not everyone cares, or sees the banks as having done anything wrong. Blowback burbling in the public and in the right-wing blogosphere against #OWS has advanced the stupid idea that loose groups like the #OWSers and the Other 99% are simply envious for the lifestyles enjoyed by Wall Street masters of the universe.

In that narrative, the enormous gap between the wealthy and the rest in the US came about because of natural, right, and just efforts to succeed in business and finance. If the unwashed 99% could just figure out how to do it too, they’d shut their traps and start making some dough for themselves.

But that isn’t the issue for #OWS and their army of invisible sympathizers, the silent majority.

They just want a fair shake for the middle class. They object to unethical business practices such as outsized money in politics, which by its very nature fosters corruption. Campaign donations are given for political favors, after all, not purely out of civic virtue. Usually those favors take the form of writing laws to benefit the donor.

Political donations from Wall Street have helped usher in a new era of deregulation allowing for unrestricted gaming of the financial system, trades that aren’t monitored or taxed, and a breakdown in the wall between banking and investment banking, dropping 99% of Americans on top of economic quicksand, but making a few speculators very rich.

Though backers of the #OWS movement have been abundantly clear about issues that concern them, in the end, actions like Bank Transfer Day may be the kind of concrete steps needed to move the protesters from organized occupation-based rebellion to spurring measurable change.

If so, they’ll have to deal with Ally Bank’s claim, which likely came from some research, that disgruntled customers “rarely make a change.”

They’ll have to up their game, perhaps demonstrating in particular why the consumer and his or her locality will benefit from such a change. The motivation will be strongest when it not only strikes back at Big Corporate, but plants a seed for Big Local.

–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

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  1. Mandy Andersen says

    We moved our account over a year ago – to where it would help strengthen the neighborhood, to where personalized service means everyone knows your name (sorry, ‘Cheers’), where you don’t even need deposit slips, and to where they could offer the same worthy benefits as ‘the big banks’.

    We’ve really appreciated our Sunset Science Park Credit Union here in Portland, OR; especially when our daughter landed in Berlin, Germany on the Saturday of a US holiday weekend, to find her account was locked and she was unable to obtain cash. Thankfully Stephanie was in the office and retrieved our desperate email and ‘phone message and immediately unlocked the account. The fault was ours – we had failed to recognize this safety feature of the credit union policy to protect accounts from unusual access attempts, and we had not warned them that access would be attempted from an ocean and continents away.

    Get smart. Move your money.

  2. says

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting your money in a credit union. And why should we keep letting the big banks dictate how much of our hard earned income goes into their coffers in the form of fees and such?

    I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want or need as much money as the 1%, but I AM sick and tired of working so hard to barely make ends meet. My efforts should support my basic needs, not the profit margins of people who are already rich.

  3. says

    NEWEST UPDATE: The Bank Transfer Day Group is up to 38,462 Attending.

    My husband and I moved our personal, business and children’s accounts to a credit union yesterday. Yay!

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