Move Your Money Day a Success; Over $50 Million Withdrawn From Big Banks
by Sarah Jaffe
Around the country, in groups and individually, Americans voted with their dollars this week to move away from the banks that caused the economic crisis.
Around the country this past Saturday, November 5, people fed up with the power and influence of the big banks (not to mention their bailouts and bad customer service) moved their money to credit unions or to small, local banks.
The pressure from Occupy Wall Street on the big banks, combined with organizing efforts from many progressive groups, including New Bottom Line, Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Rebuild the Dream, put some significant force behind the actions this weekend. Several people who moved their money shared their experiences with me.
â€œOnce I started getting involved in Occupy Wall Street, I became much more conscious of my corporate consumption. I realized that some of the financial choices I had made without thinking — without even realizing they were choices — were, in fact, pro-neoliberal political decisions. Then I decided it was time to reverse some of those decisions,â€ Ned Resnikoff, a graduate student in CUNY’s Labor Studies department, told me.
nâ€œOur nonprofit organization moved our business accounts from Bank of America to a credit union in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and bank transfer day,â€ Jonathan Stone of Walk Against Rape, an organization that works to unite rape survivors, said. â€œAs a nonprofit that survives solely on donations and volunteer hours, we were sick of fees, bad customer service and banks that fuel our broken monetary system focused on profits and not the well-being of the society which it preys upon. We need to move toward a system that focuses on human well-being as the source of wealth, not money.â€
â€œWhen I showed up at Amalgamated [the union-owned bank featured in AlterNet's guide to moving your money] on the 14th, the security guy apologized about the long line,â€ Frank Smith, a Brooklyn, NY resident, told me. All of the chairs in the waiting area were full of people waiting to open new accounts. â€œThe rep who helped me had skipped lunch and was, in fact, staying late to accommodate the line of people who were in the doors as of closing time,â€ he said. â€œThe branch manager was also engaged in opening new accounts in order to stem the tide.â€
Larry Porter, a longshoreman at the Port of Seattle, told me that after his small bank was bought out by Bank of America several years ago, he moved his money to Washington Mutual (which was bought in 2009 by JPMorgan Chase). Bank of America then also bought out his credit card company and hiked his interest rate from 3.9 percent to 14.9 percent, but the last straw was when they added a $10-a-month fee. He’s paying down that card now, and after a local credit union opened in his area, he and his wife opened accounts there this week. â€œToday we are going into the Chase branch to officially close the three accounts and when our Island Credit Union debit cards come in the mail next week, we will close out her Chase checking account,â€ he told me on Tuesday.
Resnikoff said, â€œWhen the day came, I was visiting the place I grew up, a smallish college town in Connecticut, and the bank was near deserted. It was set to close at noon. When the clerk asked why I wanted to close my accounts, I said, ‘It’s National Bank Transfer Day and I don’t feel comfortable having my money in a major corporate bank.’ He chuckled good-naturedly — not condescending, but bemused — and went about his business, making irrelevant small talk the whole time. The process took about ten minutes.â€
He continued, â€œI understand it wasn’t so painless for others. There were reports coming out of LA that a downtown Bank of America was charging a $10 account closing fee,â€ as well as last month’s arrests of protesters attempting to remove their money from banks. â€œBut incidents like that, while obnoxious, actually give me hope. They show that, whatever the short-term impact of Bank Transfer Day, the symbolic act of refusing to subsidize foreclosures and financial malpractice is powerful enough to make major banks uneasy.â€
Measuring the Impact
As Jeff Gelles at the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, it’ll be hard to measure the real financial impact of Saturday’s bank transfers until the banks report their fourth-quarter statements.
But Tracy Van Slyke, co-director of the New Bottom Line, told me that in the last week since launching the group’s â€œmove our moneyâ€ tools, individuals, congregations, union members and even business owners have moved $50 million out of the big banks. In San Jose, Calif., businessman, philanthropist and San Jose PACT-PICO supporter Mike Fox, Sr. moved $8-10 million of his own money out of Bank of America, saying â€œIt is going to take wealthy people divesting to send BofA the message that they need to stop foreclosing on our families and stop making money off the backs of our homeowners. Itâ€™s going to take all of us to send that message.â€
New Bottom Line’s goal is much bigger: $1 billion, as part of a movement that goes well beyond Saturday’s action.
Gelles noted, â€œThe Credit Union National Association said Thursday that since Bank of America’s debit fee was announced, credit unions had added 650,000 members — vs. 80,000 in an ordinary month — and $4.5 billion in deposits.â€
The Wall Street Journal reported that more than three-quarters of credit unions offer no-strings-attached free checking, but only 45 percent of banks offer the service. Credit union deposits, just like bank deposits, are insured by the FDIC. â€œOverall, U.S. credit unions have more than 91 million members, or nearly one in three Americans,â€ reporter Suzanne Kapner noted.
Credit Union National Association president/CEO Bill Cheney said in a statement, “The results indicate that consumers are clearly making a smarter choice by moving to credit unions where, on average, they will save about $70 a year in fewer or no fees, lower rates on loans and higher return on savings.â€
While it can’t count how many of the promises to move away from the big banks were actually acted upon, there were 81,452 pledges at Rebuild the Dream’s Move Your Money site, including 33,346 from Bank of America customers and 17,974 from Chase customers. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee also collected pledges with its Banxodus tool, and helped those who signed up find a credit union or small bank in their neighborhoods.
“The reason why it’s caught fire across the country is because of the change in conversation that Occupy Wall Street has inspired,” PCCC spokesman Neil Sroka told the Inquirer. “We’re actually talking about things like income inequality…and the degree that big banks have control.”
Van Slyke said, â€œIt’s an awesome start in one week!â€
Keeping the Pressure On
The New Bottom Line is just getting started with its efforts to move money away from the big banks, moving from individual efforts to pushing for group actions and even political actions.
One of the group’s strategies, Van Slyke told me, â€œis getting community groups, unions, congregations, any kind of organized group to move their money out of big banks. We have a whole toolkit at NewBottomLine.com, we’re also working with groups who are already part of the NBL network.â€
The second part of their strategy, she continued, â€œis actually introducing 50-plus resolutions in cities and towns around the country to get taxpayer dollars out of the big banks. If you want to learn how to get your school or PTA money out of the big banks, we have toolkits for that. We want to take it to the next level.â€
These resolutions of divestment can be targeted at universities, churches or entire cities. â€œOne’s happening in Los Angeles right now,â€ she said.
Finally, the third part of their strategy is a tool for people to organize a small action or event in their community where many people would move their money together. Van Slyke describes it as â€œa spin on Move Your Money — Move Your Money was great but very individualistic.â€ The Web site, MoveYourMoneyUSA.org, launched this past week, and in Los Angeles a group of people moved $15 million out of Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
Tools like Rebuild the Dream’s Move Your Money site and PCCC’s Banxodus are still up and running, as is the original Move Your Money project, started by Arianna Huffington and others, and actions targeting the big banks are only ramping up in the wake of Occupy Wall Street’s focus on banks. Since ABC News reported that banks would likely try to recoup their losses from the Move Your Money campaigns with more fees, the cycle of ill-treatment of customers leading customers to vote with their feet is only likely to continue.
Van Slyke noted, â€œWe don’t want people to think that Saturday was the end. If the banks think that Saturday was the only day they had to worry about this, then they’ll continue their bad practices.â€
Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @seasonothebitch.