Bank Transfer Day: Occupy-backed assault on big banks gaining steam

Bank Transfer Day is approaching, with organizers calling on Americans to move their money out of big banks by Nov. 5. Local banks, the potential beneficiaries of the Occupy-backed Bank Transfer Day, are reporting a significant uptick in business. 

Walter Bieri/AP
Activists of the 'Occupy' movement stage a protest without trousers in front of a cash dispenser at the headquarters of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse at the Paradeplatz square in Zurich, Switzerland, Thursday. Message on the banner reads: 'The banks have gambled away our last trousers.' International Bank Transfer Day is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011.

Some of the estimated 15,000 community banks and credit unions already appear to be profiting from the upcoming International Bank Transfer Day. Organizers of the action have set the date of Nov. 5 for consumers to shift their financial assets from large corporate institutions into community banks. 

Already 650,000 people across the country have joined credit unions in the past four weeks.

As the date nears, potential beneficiaries of the global day of action are cashing in on an upswell of anti-corporate bank sentiment and are reporting a significant uptick in business. From Portland, Ore., to Rockland, Mass., smaller banks are seeing new accounts swell, compared to the same period a year ago.

“We’ve seen our new accounts go up about 30 percent in the last month,” says Jim Schlotfeldt, chief financial officer of Albina Community Bank in Portland. The bank’s five branches normally do not open on Saturday, but Mr. Schlotfeldt says his bank is planning to make an exception this Saturday in anticipation of new business. 

In Massachusetts, Rockland Trust, with some 70 branches across the southeast part of the state, says new accounts have doubled since Sept. 30 from the same period last year.

“People are saying to the big banks, ‘We are not happy. You have pushed us too far,' ” says Jane Lundquist, executive vice president at Rockland Trust. She notes that the bank has free checking and one of her personal favorites, reimbursement of non-Rockland ATM fees, including overseas banks.

In fact, about 30 percent of US consumers said they’d leave their banks over fees for using their debit cards, according to a survey by the Research Intelligence Group.

The recent Bank of America debit-card fee debacle – in which large banks imposed a $5 monthly debit card usage fee, and then withdrew it in face of user outrage – has pushed many customers over the edge. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she says.

At the Studio City, Calif., branch of the Wells Fargo bank in southern California, Bank Transfer Day is resonating with customers.

“I’m doing it [changing banks] right now,” says acting coach Richard Brander, holding up a bulging black satchel. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but here it is in cash, and I’m off to put this in my credit union as we speak. If enough of us do this, we’ll make a significant statement that we don’t like the way the big banks are treating the little guy.”

“Enough is enough,” says Jacques Ohana, a software engineer, Wells Fargo customer, and 35-year Studio City resident. “The big guys don’t care and this will send them a message that new ideas such as $5 a month to access your own money is not fair. The money’s not gathering any interest either.”

Mr. Ohana says he has no current plans to move his money but fully supports the idea.

Like Ohana, some who support the idea, find the logistics too much to handle.

“No, I hadn’t heard of that, but I wish I had,” says real estate agent Rhonda McBride. “If I weren’t off to the dentist right now, I’d turn around and make the shift right now.”

At least one analyst points to studies that show that while consumers may have the freedom to respond to the call to action, most will find the logistical hurdles too high to overcome.

“The process of changing banks does not take just one day. Most relationship transfers take between 30 and 60 days to fully implement,” says William Mahnic, associate professor at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, in an e-mail. “The more products/services customers use at their current bank, the longer and more complex the process becomes,” he writes.

“I’m completely in favor of this mass action but am embarrassed to say I’m not participating because I have too many complicated accounts after being here 30 years,” says a woman who did not want to be identified.


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